Making the World a Better Place

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

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The 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel centred on a group of assorted British late-middle-aged/senior citizens who, for varying reasons, ended up moving to India to live out the rest of their days. They found themselves at a hotel that was less than advertised, although not for the lack of effort and enthusiasm from their young proprietor. Most of them chose to stay at the hotel and one of them, the former lifelong housekeeper/nanny Muriel, even decides to help manage it. That film is primarily about each of the elders and how they adapt (or not) to living in India, and it is about how they view their lives. It is hilarious and poignant. While most films of late to have an ensemble cast focus on younger characters, both Marigold Hotel films offer a large ensemble of late middle-aged to elderly characters, with one token younger character (the hotel proprietor Sonny). The films also cast veteran actors who bring life and vitality to their roles. They are films that show the audience that older characters, while funny, are complex and not simply one-joke decorations.

The 2015 sequel, aptly titled The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, focuses on the band of characters now that they have already formed a cohesive family of sorts. While the first film brought them together and explored the varying life paths that had brought them to India, this film takes them and has them continuing to explore these paths while also rallying around Sonny for his upcoming wedding as well as his attempt to purchase a second hotel to expand his business.

Thus, the mood to this film is much more upbeat than the previous. Like most comedies where a wedding is involved, it is inevitable that the wedding will take place, so the audience is not really left wondering if things will not work out. The joy is figuring out how the story is going to recover from the nadir of drama halfway through.

But the story does not lose itself in the wedding either. We still are treated to the various storylines of the elders living at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: they are still trying to figure out the next (possibly last) chapter in their lives. Both films hammer home the point that the last chapters of our lives do not have to be boring, faded, or dismal. One can take risks, experience new things, and be open to new love.

The second-most prominent theme in the film is: what legacy do you want to leave to the world? How do you want to be remembered? Do you want others to look back on your life and say that you had a miserable existence?

Most keenly feeling this is the character of Muriel (portrayed brilliantly by Dame Maggie Smith), who remains her usual grumpy, no-nonsense self despite having softened considerably since the beginning of the first film. She has found friends and a purpose in life, even as it seems that she is close to the end of it. For her, the hotel is more than a home: she has brought it under control, taught Sonny quite a bit, and been able to prepare them to expand the business. She wants Sonny to succeed – frustrated as she is with him and his antics, she has come to see him as one of the children that she never had – and she wants other people such as herself to have the option of living out their elderhood and finding their purpose in India as she has. She takes ownership of the project of the hotel’s expansion and she finds herself in a mentorship role. Does she have anyone back in England who cares much about her? Probably not. But in her new life, she has many who are concerned about her, to the point that Sonny rushes back from his wedding reception to look for her, worried that she might have done the “ultimate check-out”. (Luckily, she simply wanted to avoid a noisy and crowded party. Plus, someone needed to mind the hotel.)

Making the world a better place inevitably means starting projects you do not expect to see finished – planting trees that you never expect to sit under, as quoted in the film. One is never too old to stop caring, to stop making a difference in the world and in the lives of others. One’s life is only meaningless if one makes it so. And there is no reason not to enjoy life either, no matter how old one is.

 

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