“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has the same winning ingredients as the first film.
There is a sumptuous setting in India and characters who combine being interesting with being vulnerable, played by actors and actresses of consummate skill who are clearly enjoying themselves.
Add to that a whole network of love stories that are emerging, or submerging, in all the complexities of two human beings trying to understand each other while not fully understanding themselves.
And, of course, there is the well-written script, moving from condensed milk sweetness to bitter lemon tartness, and with some one-liners that are clever, funny and at times movingly profound in their probing of our deep hopes and at times our deeper disappointments.
When Richard Gere says he is 64, I am reassured that in one tiny fact at least, I am the same as him.
Which means to be 64 and watching a film about the possibilities and opportunities of retirement is to be asking, if not for trouble, at least for food for thought.
The film offers an amusing and poignant reminder that growing older has its positives, but if we are not careful, we might buy into the cultural confusion about aging we have all played our part in creating.
The range of ageist responses from patronizing concessions, culpable indifference, burden bearing resentment, optimism bordering on denial, to what Maggie Smith as the citrus-tongued philosopher of the hotel says, “the one utterly unacceptable attitude that negates the real possibilities, the self-pity of the old mourning their own mature chronology.”
So at 64 the film brings me laughter, joyful life, food for thought and a heightened awareness of the key line of the whole film, which is a happy misquotation by the overexcited hotel manager (played by Dev Patel), “There is no present like the time.”
That is such a beautiful rearrangement of words. Time. Now. The present. The gift of time and the gift of the present. Time is a present, presented to us, now.
My own chronology, and chronic denial of its creeping limitations, means I’ve been sidelined from five-a-side football (soccer) for a month and probably a month more due to a badly strained soleus muscle.
The physiotherapist suggests I now run faster and stop more suddenly than my legs can take, but then advises me not to give up, but to train and strengthen the muscles, adjust my play and go on keeping fit.
The injury is a reminder that mobility isn’t to be taken for granted, and that the body doesn’t go on forever.
Actually, I won’t go on forever, another gentle but persistent reminder embedded in the film.
Like many who start the final third of life, I’m still unsure of many things as working life slows down. Some of that is an overactive sense of accountability.
For all of us, this can take the form of chronic guilt, or performance anxiety, or status maintenance or ego consciousness, and various other subterfuges of personal insecurity.
In other words, there is a spiritual dimension to retirement from major responsibility that involves learning to trust the purposes of God, relinquishing the assumption that the faithfulness of my discipleship is performance based.
The current emphases in theological reflection are on embodiment, enacting, performing, but these must be heard as correlates of the grace that enables such embodiment, practice and performance.
Salvation by works, that old legalism of the heart, remains a debilitating temptation to those who always want to prove to God they are worth saving, and to others that we are worth having around.
What this film does is insist, persistently and consistently, is that there is no present but the time – each day is a gift to be received with thanksgiving, trust and loving care for those who struggle the same road, and wondering how we’ll manage the tight corners, steep climbs and sudden landslides.
Edward Thomas’ poem for his daughter, “And You Helen,” offers a perfect review of the film:
And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To Choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
upon travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And a heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.
Three lines, in particular, encapsulate the film’s message and help us welcome life with the attitude that there is no present like the time: “I would give you back yourself / and power to discriminate / what you want and want it not too late.”
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.
MPAA rating: Rated PG for some language and suggestive comments.
Director: John Madden
Writer: Ol Parker
Cast: Dev Patel: Sonny Kapoor; Maggie Smith: Muriel Donnelly; Judi Dench: Evelyn Greenslade; Bill Nighy: Douglas Ainslie; Celia Imrie: Madge Hardcastle; Tina Desai: Snaina; Richard Gere: Guy Chambers.
The movie’s website is here.
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.