Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- outsourcing as a grand adventure

Director: John Madden, 2011. (PG-13)

Outsourcing has become a stalwart strategy for many American companies. But can we apply it in our personal lives? In particular, can we outsource our retirement? Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt) raises this question in this charming if offbeat comedy.

The premise is simple. Seven British retirees decide to outsource their retirement to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India. Expecting a resort, they get a dump, a dilapidated palace that has seen better centuries.

The seven are an odd bunch. Evelyn (Judy Dench, Chocolat) is perhaps the central character and heart of the film. She has just lost her husband of 40 years, a man who controlled their marriage. With debt forcing her to sell her home, the allure of a cheaper place in India beckons to her. Graham (Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom), a high court judge, on whim announces his retirement at a retirement party. His decision to go to India is rooted in lifelong shame and a search for an old love. Then there are Douglas (Bill Nighy, Hot Fuzz) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), a married couple who have lost their retirement savings in an ill-advised investment and now cannot face the beige bungalow that their meager funds can afford. India offers more. Muriel (Maggie Smith, Harry Potter series) needs a hip replacement and doesn’t want to wait the months that it will take under the National Health System in UK, so goes for the quick and cheap Indian hospital approach. That leaves Norman (Ronald Pickup), a sex-starved scallywag looking for a fresh piece of skirt, and Madge (Celia Imrie), a much-married divorcee looking for a new rich husband abroad.

Madden has the cream of gray-haired British acting engaged here, and they are on form. Each dives into the character, bringing their own particular styles to bear, from droll (Nighy) to emotional (Wilkinson) to sarcastic (Smith). Coupled with Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), the naïve but idealistic owner of the hotel, they bring beauty to the intelligent and witty script. And this acting beauty matches the cinematic beauty and color of the region.

A nagging criticism, though, is that there are perhaps too many characters; it is hard to keep so many plotlines in the air. Some characters get left for too long. Eliminating one or two might have made for a tighter film. Still, this is nit-picking.

Muriel and Jean capture perfectly the older British style of foreign vacations. Where one looks down on the natives with a racial superiority and intolerance, the other withdraws, choosing not to see the beauty and wonder, only the difference. To her, the differences are to be avoided. She wants grilled chicken and white rice, rather than spicy curry and dahl. No adventure for some.

Evelyn and Graham offer the contrasting approaches. Evelyn is willing to reluctantly step out of her comfort zone to experience life anew, afresh, as if for the first time. And Graham returns to old haunting grounds, navigating the familiar even as he finds it changed and somewhat unfamiliar.

The film centers on retirement, obviously. This is the period when work or service is over, and the last quarter (or less) of life remains. Death stares us in the face. The film really asks us how we should approach retirement. Can we enjoy this period, fraught as it may be with medical issues, like Muriel’s? Can we change?

One interchange between Evelyn, our protagonist and Muriel, gets to the heart of this. Evelyn says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.” Muriel insightfully replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” This is the crux of adventure. It is unexpected, unplanned, but often can be seen as good.

Life is a grand adventure. God made it that way. Too often, though, we put off the experience of that adventure until retirement. And by then we are usually too set in our ways to be open to new encounters. But we can change if we choose to. It is a mindset, an attitude. When we are willing, we can taste the adventure and it is sweet and exotic, something to be embraced. When we are unwilling, it simply tastes different and foreign, something to be avoided. The former signifies growth and life, the latter signifies stasis and death.

Retirement can introduce a whole new chapter into our lives, a chapter of exploration even service. We can be of use to others; we can develop ourselves. Many choose to enter into mission or volunteerism to share from their knowledge and wisdom with others perhaps younger than themselves. (This reminds us of the writers of Proverbs, who boil down their life experiences into pithy aphorisms to share with the next generation.) Or retirement can initiate the conclusion and epilog to our lives, as we see our characters set in stone. We are of little use to others; we sit and wait for the grim reaper to make his unwelcome call. But in waiting, we make no effort to help others; instead we become shallow and withdrawn, embittered and cynical. It’s a choice we must eventually face.

Back, though, to the original question. Can we outsource our retirement? No, not in the sense of today’s outsourcing of jobs. In that regard, we move activities to other people, like manufacturing jobs from the USA to China. Our retirement is our retirement. It cannot be experienced by another. But we can choose to outsource it in the sense of relocation to a cheaper venue, which is the point here. And if we do so, we must approach it with an open-mind, else it will be a grand disaster.

As Sonny says several times, “Everything will be all right in the end . . . if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.” If we approach it correctly, our retirement will be all right in the end, regardless of where we end up. If we want to actively outsource it, it will work. If we passively outsource, the end will come sooner than we imagine.

In closing, when the end comes, we will be all right if we can look Jesus in the face and know that we know him as our friend (Jn. 15:15). Under these conditions, our death will be an exit from this world into an eternal retirement that will certainly be a wonderful adventure.

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

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