There’s no present like the time. – Babul
In keeping with the first, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie, the second was fun and full of laughs (largely thanks to Dev Patel’s fantastically awkward, fast-talking, lovable Sonny) mixed with just the right amount of warmth, meaning, and even a touch of pathos. As the movie centers around retirees who are in the twilight of their lives (they have roll call every morning to make sure, as Sonny explains to a younger woman staying there, “that no one leaves us in the night and remains undiscovered—although you, dear lady, are nearer the menopause than the mortuary,”) there is a weightiness to it. The characters are thinking about their lives, not only where they have been, but also about the short time that is left…and they are able to invest the wealth of their wisdom and perspective into the younger generations. This provides for a movie with a lot to chew on…and a lot to discuss.
In a movie that could be very much about looking back and reliving and/or making peace with the past (the first one focused more on that journey), this one focused more on making use of the time that is left. Each of the characters, in their own way, had to face moving forward. Madge was trying to choose between suitors. Evelyn and Douglas were both dealing with their fears about their feelings for each other and taking their friendship to another level. Evelyn was offered a job in a textiles industry. “But I’m 79!” she protested, to which the employer replied, “We don’t mind if you don’t!” Sonny’s mom was afraid to admit her interest in guy (Richard Gere, a new character) and he was in a job transition, wanting to pursue a new career as a novelist.
In a wonderful, perfectly and appropriately misquoted phrase, Madge’s sage cab driver told her, “There’s no present like the time.” So typical of the movie, you don’t know if he just misquoted “there’s not time like the present” or if he meant his mistake. Either way, his mistaken phrase summarizes the movie beautifully. There is no present like the time. Time IS a gift and the retirees knew that better than most. Like all of us they had their fears, but they didn’t want to waste the little time they have left, because it’s a gift. So they were each thinking seriously about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
You might expect that, in that late stage of life, their decisions would have been focused on how to get the most pleasure out of life. And in a way they were, but not as you might expect. They weren’t thinking about where to vacation next or what pleasure to pursue so much as they were thinking about meaningful things. They realized that their great pleasure in life wasn’t to pursue their own happiness so much as to pursue something meaningful. They wanted to pursue depth and meaning. Even the hedonistic Madge turned down her two wealthy lovers when she found someone of actual substance. In the end, we can learn from them that the things that matter most are relationships and legacy.
The relationship aspect is fairly obvious, but the legacy aspect was particularly poignant. Mrs. Donnelly, the crusty, pessimistic spinster of whom Sonny said, “her language is sordid, it does have a certain quality of economy and pith” never had her own family, but she loved Sonny and Sunaina as if they were her own. She was a mentor to Sonny, helping him with his business, finances, management and hotel expansion. She could have simply run the business, but instead, she chose to teach Sonny so that when she was gone, he would be able to do things without her. Their business investor, at the end of the film, came to see her. He said, “I came to pay my respects. There’s nothing I respect more than someone planting trees under whose shade they may never sit.”
That’s the idea of legacy. It’s being willing to do the hard work of planting trees, knowing you will not be around to benefit from their growth. It’s investing in the future, even when it’s not your future, but someone else’s future you’re investing in.
Mrs. Donnelly said it in her own way in a letter to Sonny. “There’s no such thing as an ending, just a place where you leave the story, and it’s your story now.” She recognized that life didn’t end with her. She was a character in a larger story, not the point of the story. Because of that, she was willing to leave the story, knowing that she had prepared Sonny to rise up and play his role. He was the legacy she was leaving behind.
It’s a beautiful story told with lots of laughs, but I hope that the story doesn’t end when the credits roll, but that it encourages us all to think about our own lives, because, after all, there is no present like the time. The question is, what do we do with it?
Questions for Discussion:
- Would you say you take time for granted, or would you say you really appreciate the gift that time is?
- How would you live differently if you knew time was short?
- What do you think the message of the movie is? What do you think it’s saying about what really matters in life?
- How tempting is it to think you’ve already had your glory days? Do you ever think you’re too old for a new adventure?
- Do you tend to ruminate on the past, or live for the future?
- In the movie, their focus with the little time they had left was to focus not just on pleasure, but on meaning through relationships and legacy. Where would you say your focus is in your own life?
- What would you like your legacy to be? If you were to die right now, what do you think your legacy would actually be?
- Have you ever planted trees knowing you would never sit under their shade, so to speak? Have you known anyone who did? What are the challenges to doing that?