By Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death™
I picked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a Funeral Film because it is an excellent movie that addresses aging issues and it shows Hindu funeral rites. Plus, there’s great humor throughout the movie.
Seven English seniors experience life changes which result in their coincidental departure to be the first guests at the enticingly-pitched Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a hotel “for the elderly and beautiful” in Jaipur, India. The characters are:
- Recently widowed housewife Evelyn (Judi Dench), who had to sell her home to cover huge debts incurred in secret by her husband.
- Graham (Tim Wilkinson), a high court judge who grew up in India, decides to retire and return there to find something he lost long ago.
- Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Doug (Bill Nighy) seek a retirement they can afford with the money they have left after investing in their daughter’s Internet start-up company.
- Muriel (Maggie Smith), a retired housekeeper, needs a hip replacement which she can get more quickly and inexpensively in India. She’s also highly bigoted against anyone with dark skin.
- Wealthy Madge (Celia Imrie) seeks adventure while she hunts for another husband.
- Norman (Ronald Pickup), an aging lothario, still wants to believe he has what it takes to be a success in the sack.
Their journey from England to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes a detour as their flight to Jaipur is cancelled. They begin bonding as they take a long, crowded bus ride for the final leg of the trip there. They arrive to find the palace is a shell of its former self, greatly in need of repair and renovations. With the assurances of young hotel manager Sunny (Dev Patel), they settle in and the adventures begin in earnest.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel illuminates the idea that we can still be vital as we grow old. Many of these characters are active, curious, and eager to explore their new environment. The actors playing them range in age from 60, (Celia Imrie as Madge) to 78 (Judi Dench as Evelyn).
Evelyn gets her first job, advising the staff of a marketing call center how to better interact with their British contacts. Jean mostly stays in the hotel reading, whereas Doug explores city sights suggested by Graham. Madge and Norman join an exclusive club to meet well-off singles. Even Muriel gets out and about a bit, and her bigotry begins to fade, albeit gradually.
In Gail Sheehy’s 1996 book, New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, she writes about new frontier in aging: a Second Adulthood that starts after age 45. Instead of declining, men and women who embrace a Second Adulthood can progress through entirely new passages into lives of deeper meaning, renewed playfulness, and creativity well into their 70s, 80s, and 90s.
The characters in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel illustrate this concept well. When Evelyn sighs, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected,” Muriel crisply replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”
Financial Planning and Literacy
Finances were a key reason many of the characters went to India. It offered a less-expensive lifestyle than they experienced in Great Britain. Evelyn had to deal with the debt incurred by her late husband. She had no clue about her family finances, that was something her husband handled. Doug and Jean were hoping their daughter’s Internet company would become a success and they would get paid back. Muriel just wanted to get her hip replacement done quickly – something the medical system in Britain couldn’t do for months.
Lack of funds may be a big concern for many baby boomers as they age. If retirement funds run out, and medical costs soar, retirees might head for Mexico, India and other places where they can stretch what funds they have. How are you set for your golden years? People don’t plan to fail, yet they fail to plan, and that makes all the difference.
Hindu Funeral Rites
As Evelyn narrates, “Of course, it was inevitable. Put enough old people in the same place, it won’t be too long before one of them goes.” I won’t spoil the surprise by saying which character dies. Suffice to say there is a beautiful Hindu funeral scene: a burning pyre that lasts all day, reducing the body to ash, and the ceremonial scattering of ashes in water.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is available on Netflix and for sale on DVD (as available) through this link to Amazon.com.
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations.