Friday, June 15, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sometimes there is a simple, unexpected moment that proves to be magical, even sacred. The miracle of such a moment touched my life once again last night.

I have often called the multiplex cinema the secular cathedral of our time. The “congregation” gathers faithfully at the time of the film showing, and shares not only the experience of laughing, crying, and sometimes even applauding in response to the activity on the screen, but also shares a ritual feast (“communion”) of soda and popcorn as they sit reverently in the dark, allowing their minds and emotions to be engaged by the work of actors, directors, screenwriters, and other such “ministers.”

But Cathedrals offer not only corporate worship opportunities, but also moments of personal reflection. Side chapels, prayer gardens, and moments of centering before worship are also part of Cathedral life. Those moments of reflection can sometimes transport us to higher dimensions of peace, hope, and life.

Imagine my delight when I strayed into such a reflective space last night at a nearby “secular cathedral.”

I knew almost nothing about the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; but I did know that it featured a cast of titans and any film that features both Judy Dench and Maggie Smith is sure to be almost life-changing!

The cast included:
Dame Judy Dench – 77 (TV: As Times Goes By; Film: Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Last of the Blonde Bombshells, Notes on a Scandal, Mrs Henderson Presents, Tea With a Mussolini, Chocolat, Nine, My Week With Marilyn, Ladies in Lavender, and James Bond movies)

Bill Nighy – 62 (Film: Pirates of the Caribbean movies as Davy Jones), Notes on a Scandal, Harry Potter films

Penelope Wilton – 66 (granddaughter of theatre owners; TV: Downton Abbey)

Dame Maggie Smith – 77 (TV: Downton Abbey, guest on Carol Burnett Show; Film: California Suite, Gosford Park, Sister Act, Harry Potter films, Ladies in Lavender, Tea With Mussolini, First Wives Club)

Tom Wilkinson – 64 (Film: Green Hornet, Wilde, Full Monty, Priest)

Dev Patel – 22 (Film: Slumdog Millionaire)

So, after a long and busy day, I went to the nearest cinema offering a late show of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

When I arrived at the theater, there weren’t many cars – not surprising for a rainy Thursday night at 10:30 pm. I happily walked in to discover no line, so I walked right up to the ticket booth, but my heart sank when I couldn’t find the name of the film on the board behind the teller. I asked her about it, and she said, “Oh, yeah, it’s showing tonight, but I’ve already taken the sign down.” I just made it to the last showing of the movie at that particular theater. Whew.

Next, there was my communion chalice of sacramental wine (aka a small paper cup filled with fountain soda) and then on to the show.

I walked in and was surprised to find the room completely empty. Previews were playing, but no one was there to watch them. I thought, “how kind of them to show this movie just for me!” And they did. No one else came into the movie for its entire duration. Fine! I get Judy and Maggie all to myself!

And that’s when the magic began. Dame Judy Dench and Dame Maggie Smith gave the brilliant performances we have come to expect from them. And they were joined by other great actors as well.

The story is about retirees in the UK responding to an ad for a retirement community in India. Affordable elegance for the elderly is what is promised, and the first residents of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful all arrive in India on the same flight from England, and all arrive at the hotel together. The ancient palace is almost in ruins, and it is managed by a very young man with very big dreams.

These first adventurous retirees are there for a variety of reasons:
Evelyn (Dench) is recently widowed and her late husband has left her in debt. She sells their flat to pay off their debts, moves to India to live in an affordable retirement hotel, and takes a job at a local company for income. She not only finds purpose in India, but also a second chance at love.

Douglas (Nighy) & Jean (Wilton) have reached retirement age, but have invested their life savings into a scheme of their daughter’s which hasn’t yet paid off. So, rather than living in a retirement home in England, they move to India to live in luxury on their pension. Douglas loves the adventure and falls in love with his new community and country (and more); Jean is disappointed that the promised luxury is not yet a reality and she does not adjust well to the new environment.

Muriel (Smith) is a former housekeeper and self-trained bookkeeper who moves to an assisted living facility after being let go by the family she has faithfully served for decades. She has racist tendencies and is generally misanthropic. When she breaks her hip, her care provider tells her that her surgery has been “outsourced” to a clinic in India that can give her excellent care at a fraction of the cost. While she is recovering, she can stay at the Marigold. During her recuperation, she makes friends and takes an interest in the hotel itself. When the hotel’s survival is threatened, it’s Muriel who actually devises a plan to save it.

Graham (Wilkinson) is a high court judge with a health condition and a life-long regret. The closure that will bring him peace is in India, and he finds that peace just in the nick of time.

Norman (played by Ronald Pickup - 77) sees himself as a lover, but he’s having a lot of difficulty finding someone with whom he can share his love. He tells a younger woman who rejects him at a speed dating event, “I’ve still got it; but nobody wants it.” For a change of pace he relocates to India, and continues his search for romance.

Madge (played by Celia Imrie - 59) has been married repeatedly and has looked for love between marriages as well. When she finds that her life is becoming an extended experience of babysitting her grandchildren, she decides to make a drastic change and moves to India in search of a rich widower.

Even Sonny (Patel), the young hotel manager learns that love is worth risk, that dreams can come true for those who will learn, seize opportunity, and be open to change, and that success is possible but usually requires help along the way.

Some of these late in life adventurers find what they are looking for, others find something else (and possibly better), and at least one finds very little other than a chance to return to a life in Europe. What those open to it discover is that it’s never too late to enjoy the present and navigate the future if one is willing to release the past and move forward. And for those who can find such courage, other wonderful discoveries can also be made.

Aging, class, adventure, discovery, human sexuality, romance, grief, regret, hope, health, and personal growth are among the topics addressed not in a preachy way, but in the unfolding of human lives and relationships depicted on the screen.

And that wonderful experience was something I got to have in the sacred dark, alone, or perhaps in communion with the wisdom of ages, the power of poetic insight, the limitlessness of imagination, and the life- giving energy produced by good art. I was on holy ground and emerged whole and full of joy as a result.

If you’ve not yet seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel yet, find it wherever it is and make seeing it a priority.

1 comment:

Charlene said...

I have been dying to see this, and never 'finding time' you're right, tomorrow, I have to find the time - not sure where, but I will, thanks for this Durrell