Honesty, and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

We watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last weekend, and began thinking about honesty in relationships.

The film is certain to delight the heart and tickle the funny bone.  Seven English retirees, from a charlady to a High Court judge, are lured to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India, through what can only be described as the most optimistic brochure imaginable.  The brochure was produced, and the hotel managed, by an enthusiastically positive young part-owner. He doesn’t see his “optimistic” take on reality as dishonest. He prefers to speak of things as he hopes they will be in the future, rather than dwell on the unpleasant details of the present. His motto is, “Everything will be alright in the end; if everything is not alright, it is not yet the end.” A wonderful philosophy, but a touch of reality may occasionally be required.

Others also wrestled with honesty.  Graham, the retired judge, had lived in India as a youngster, where he had a gay relationship with a young Indian childhood friend. The relationship ended in disgrace for the Indian boy while Graham was able to retreat to university in England, and a distinguished legal career. Now, 40 years later, he seeks out his friend to find healing for the pain and guilt of a lifetime. The friend’s openness towards his wife, from whom he had no secrets, meant that there was no awkwardness, only joy, at the reunion.

Evelyn (Judi Dench) discovers at the beginning of the movie that her husband of 40 years should not have been trusted, at least not with the family finances.  When asked about trust in a marriage, she spoke of the time she met her husband on a rickety carousel. He put his arms around her and said, “Trust me.”  And so she did, for 40 years, while he made all the decisions.  His favourite saying was, “End of discussion,” when there had been no discussion at all.  At his death she discovered that he had failed her miserably. She would have to sell her flat and would still have precious little to live on.  To the horror of her family she decides to take charge for the first time in her life, and retire to India.

Norman and Madge, both looking for love, and pretending to be more than they are, have little success in meeting interested singles. When Norman admits to being nothing more or less than lonely, he connects with a similarly lonely Englishwoman who has been in India all her life.

Jean and Douglas’s marriage has lasted nearly forty years.  His loyalty has survived her complete negativity towards everyone and everything, but enough is enough.  When Jean determines to go back to England, she leaves him behind in a traffic jam recognising something of her own failure reflected in his righteousness.

Probably the most honest of them all is Muriel (Maggie Smith).  Deeply racist, her brutal honesty gets her into all sorts of trouble until she begins to discover the humanity of others.  She stops running from her past as a charlady, and embraces those same strengths to carve a place for herself in this exotic land.

Honesty is clearly not a straightforward thing; the challenge is at the very least to be honest about honesty.

We also watched “The Dilemma” on TV the same weekend.  Yes, I know, but that was all there was.  In this movie a man tries to intervene in his friend’s marriage when he discovers his friend’s wife is having an affair.  He becomes obsessed with honesty, but somehow misses honesty in his own relationships.  During the 40th wedding anniversary celebration of his girlfriend’s parents, he insists that the main ingredient for a successful marriage is honesty.  The father interjects, “…and love.”

“Yes,” our hero replies. “But honesty is key.” His simplistic view of honesty is pretty scary.

Another take on honesty is provided by Sue Townsend in The Woman who went to Bed for a  Year.   One of the characters in the book, Brian Jnr, asks seven-year-old Venus to define goodness.

Venus replies, “Goodness means telling good lies, so that people won’t get hurt by true words.”

I would suggest that only love is strong enough to differentiate between “good lies” and bad, between truth that builds and truth that destroys.

What do you think?  Is honesty more complicated than we make it out to be?  Do share your comments below.

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