Outsourcing aging at Best Exotic Marigold
On the surface, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a piece of feel-good movie fluff with a great cast. But it has a point to make, and it makes it eloquently.
Set in a rundown hotel in idyllic India—visually beautiful without the scorching heat, noise and chaos—the story follows a group of diverse characters who have little in common except that they are all, still, looking for something intangible and have passed the age of most beginnings.
The owner of the hotel, an enterprising young Indian man played by Dev Patel, has a brilliant business idea: He wants to “outsource” aging, and believes there is a market for this in a North American society that “doesn’t like old people.”
This is the first moment in the film, which also stars Judi Dench, that one suspects something more serious is at work. Two quotes remain with me: “Perhaps what we most fear about the future is that it will stay the same,” and “Everything will be all right in the end and if it is not all right, it is not the end.”
We do live in a society that fears, and therefore denies, the reality of aging. It is a small step of the imagination to think that if it were possible, we would love to “outsource aging.” We associate older faces and bodies with deterioration and ultimately death. Yet death is not necessarily the realm of the old. There are 80-year-olds who ski and 15-year-olds who die without ever having tasted a first kiss.
On the other hand, the film asks us to suspend our disbelief to the nth degree when a racist morphs into a sweet and wise old lady. But because this character is portrayed by the beloved Maggie Smith, we do so willingly.
At the screening I attended, there were invited groups of seniors in the audience. With blissful ignorance, a younger woman introduced the film to islands of white and grey as “a film especially made for ‘you people’.”
But the point of the film is that the exclusion of “the old” is a farce, as youth and old age are just part of the much greater cycle of life, an ever-swirling continuum. The film does not gloss over the byproducts of aging, such as death and disillusion, but it does make the point that while one is alive, one has the right to hope. And by definition, hope implies a future.
Perhaps being repelled by aging, or denying death is of commercial value. After all, there is a whole industry that tells us daily that the appearance of physical aging is a no-no.
But if we don’t see falling leaves as threatening and we don’t hate a flower when its blooms are spent, we should extend that perception to ourselves.
So, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel can inspire debate and discussion, all with a touch of humour and tenderness. And that is what aging is all about.