See ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’: Enjoy oldies as the new zeitgeist!

This is a brilliant film in so many ways.  It’s a very funny, moving, and deep exploration of the issues of life beyond 50, and all this arises so naturally from placing a well-chosen range of characters in an extreme and different context, India.

Marigold Hotel is a clever example of fiction anticipating fact.  With so many other labour-intensive services being outsourced to India, why not retirement living?  The film’s basic plot is a varied bunch of English over-50s trying to live in a rundown hotel in Jaipur which is trying to serve ‘the elderly and beautiful’.

In my twenties, I followed the hippie trail to India, and hated it.  I’ve been back twice in my late fifties, and found ways to enjoy it.  This country takes everything to extremes: beauty, pollution, spirituality, overpopulation.  The different ways in which these English oldies adapt, or fail to, are really entertaining and instructive.  Just being in Jaipur is a shipwreck, and the ways they invent themselves are remarkable.  The Indian characters are just as vivid as the English ones, and their influence on each other is beautifully observed.  I loved the scene where the retired judge gives the street kids tips on batting technique, and ends up playing cricket with them.

Being somewhere so different forces a level of honesty, and urgency, which all of us beyond 50 would do well to adopt.  Death and sickness are such visible parts of the everyday in India, that it forces you to value being alive, today.  This pushes two of the film’s sixty-somethings through the usual barriers, and into a playful, even youthful romance.

One of the odd things about being beyond 50 these days is the lottery – like uncertainty of who’s got money, and who hasn’t.  This film gives a sensitive picture of the shame and lostness of middle-class people suddenly finding they’re broke at retirement because of dud investments.

The cast are so strong that it almost put me off.  I’ve seen Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith so often that it’s now hard for me to see the character, not the actor.  In this film, their roles have such depth that I forgot the player, and was gripped by the play.  This is probably thanks to the book the movie is based on, These Foolish Thingsby Deborah Moggach, which I intend to read.  Seeing Maggie Smith as a working class racial bigot confronted by India is worth the ticket price alone.

You could said that this is a film about life beyond 50, aimed at audiences beyond 50.  There’s a lot of us around, so maybe we are the new zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.