Journey 60: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A snow day equals a movie day, and what a delightful way to spend a cozy afternoon indoors. I journeyed today to India, via the wonderful movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and I was enchanted. Released in 2011, I have somehow missed this movie. Watching new releases recently, I saw previews for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, due in theaters March 6. At the DVD rental store yesterday, I found the first installment and brought it home. I’m so glad I did.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has an all star cast including Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, and Tina Desae. The film was directed by John Madden and is based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach. This comedy drama is rated PG-13 for minor language and brief sexual content and has a run time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

British retirees book rooms in the exotic, yet crumbling, Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India, for a variety of reasons. All are experiencing life changes that are not entirely due to age. Evelyn (Dench) has just lost her husband of 40 years and must liquidate her assets in England to pay off his debts. Graham (Wilkinson) has reached retirement age as a judge and has a past in India that has haunted him all his life. Douglas (Nighy) and his wife Jean (Wilton) lost their retirement savings through investments in their daughter’s internet company. Muriel (Smith) needs a hip replacement surgery and can obtain one at a much lower cost in India. And Madge (Imrie) seeks a rich husband while Norman (Pickup) is easing his loneliness by chasing women.

The travelers are surprised by the deteriorating condition of the hotel, as the online brochure showed more opulence. (I found it intriguing, for me and for the characters, that their rooms did not have doors on them.) They meet the charming and optimistic manager and part owner of the hotel, Sonny (Patel) and they agree to stay, some of the new occupants more reluctantly than others. The old hotel, once owned by Sonny’s father, exudes a charm of its own, and soon the retirees have settled into their surroundings and are adjusting to new lives, in a new locale. Each person follows his or her own path, some toward love, some toward independence for the first time, and a couple of them toward the beauty of life itself. As they open to India, they also open to new places within themselves, releasing the past and embracing the present. Even Sonny, whose mother does not accept or approve of his girlfriend Sunaina (Desae), finds himself changing along with his first guests.

I absolutely loved this movie. I smiled through the whole film and teared up more than once as truths touched deeply. I especially identified with Judi Dench’s character, Evelyn, who finding herself in a strange land, both outwardly and inwardly, began to blog daily about her experiences. On the way to the hotel, Evelyn asks Graham if everything is going to be all right.  The judge confesses he is more scared than she is. Then he straightens in newly found courage and says, “No…it’s going to be extraordinary.”

And the transformations are extraordinary. Graham finds a long lost love and realizes that the fear and shame he has lived with all his life were entirely his own creations. He did not ruin another’s life. Muriel, who has allowed bitterness and prejudice to choke her life, finds grace and purpose again. Madge, who fears she has nothing to offer any longer, finds she can give encouragement and support to others. Norman quits pretending to be someone other than who he is and meets the perfect companion, while Douglas and Jean examine their lives as a couple as their paths seem to be taking them in different directions.

Because Evelyn is blogging, she often narrates the movie, and so many of her words are quote worthy. I stopped and rewound this movie often to capture her wisdom by typing into my phone. As the inhabitants of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel become friends and their lives shift, Evelyn writes, “Old habits die easier than we think and new ones form.” The symphony of sound and color in Jaipur awakens life in her and in most of the others, while it terrifies a couple of those who at first refuse to accept their circumstances. “Resist and be knocked down,” is Evelyn’s sage advice. “Dive in and swim through to the other side.”

About leaving their old lives in England and embracing the new, she shares, “There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.” I love the visual and the energetic feel of that truth. I’m going to write that one down and add it to my deck of inspiring quotes and affirmations. Evelyn, who blamed her late husband for keeping her small, recognized at last that she is the author of her own life story and wept sad yet healing tears.

What a gorgeously visual and deeply moving film, as rich and complex as India herself. I am excited to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which opens Friday in theaters. I am also convinced that any movie with the word “hotel” in it is a good one for me to see! As this movie concluded, Evelyn narrates as images of the retirees living their new lives unfolded, “The person who risks nothing, does nothing…has nothing. All we know about the future is that it will be different. But perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. So we must celebrate the changes. Because as someone (Sonny) said, ‘Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me…it’s not yet the end.’” I so agree. And I am celebrating!

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cast