The End-of-Life Hotel
June 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
I slouch down comfortably in my seat at The Clyde Theater anticipating excellent acting from the ensemble cast in the comedy-drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The theater is full, patrons chatting amiably as usual. A gaggle of “Red Hat Ladies” fill three rows, red, feathered, sparkly side-perched “fascinators” their hats of choice. Sitting next to my daughter and her friends I realize that I’m sitting among the youngest in the theater–as they are in their mid-forties. The theater is like a large cozy community living room, tonight peopled with the mobile aging.
As the movie begins, the money woes and/or personal issues of the characters are introduced, one by one. Judi Dench’s character has just lost her husband of many years (well, you know what I mean: he died). Her son informs her she is deeply in debt and she must sell her home and go to live with him. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play a long-married couple who have sunk their life savings in their daughter’s internet business and can only afford a stark retirement cottage with grab bars and a call button. Tom Wilkinson plays a high court judge raised in India who retires and returns there. The indomitable Maggie Smith, an ex-housekeeper with no house to keep, can’t wait six months for an expensive hip replacement in Great Britain and comes to India for the operation. Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie play desperately-seeking, failed-in-love individuals. And then there’s India: gloriously multi-colored, volume-turned up, people everywhere, spicy India. India is the background character who steals the show and holds the story together as the retirees all head off there–to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (the manager played by award-winning Dev Patel of Slum Dog Millionaire fame).
As the retirees mesh their lives in the attractively shabby-chic hotel in India, secrets begin to emerge, new strengths and opportunities are discovered and passions rise. I won’t spoil the story for you if you haven’t seen it, but know that lives change as India—glorious, maddening, exasperating, beautiful India—forms the backdrop. We watch Judi Dench grows as a person, finds a job to supplement her meager retirement and opens her heart to new love. Maggie Smith morphs from a bitter and racist harridan to a woman of purpose. Those looking for love are persistent until they find it. Tragedy and comedy play out in the other characters’ lives, racism and inflexibility are revealed, love and persistence win out and death waits in the wings.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a movie that looks at how some live that end stage, that winter season, that final act that we call “Golden Years.” The acting is skilled and seamless, the screenplay by Ol Parker from a book by Deborah Moggach called These Foolish Things is engaging. But as the screen went black and credits rolled and the patrons at The Clyde Theater clapped enthusiastically, I felt a little sad.
Sad that family connections are portrayed as so flimsy that the characters don’t want to live around their children or grandchildren as they age. Sad that there doesn’t seem to be a purpose in the lives of the pensioners except amusing themselves. And sad for the portrayal of the one long-time marriage in the movie. When the wife will not adapt to India and they learn their retirement money has not been lost after all, she demands they return home. Thirty-nine years of marriage disintegrates in seconds in standstill traffic as the wife goes on to the airport and the husband turns away and returns to the Marigold Hotel and the potential of a waiting new love.
It’s just a movie, I know. But, I’d love to see couples in marriages occasionally portrayed working through misunderstandings and disagreements, portraying commitment and faithfulness. Is it too much to ask to see a man and woman growing old together content with each other and what they have?
ⓒ Inger Logelin 2012