If a film can bring one to laugh and cry and truly fill the spans of emotion, and develop the opportunity for a thought-provoking discussion about the saga and reality of a mixed-oriented marriage, then it must be a worthwhile piece of cinema.
Such was our experience in seeing with my wife "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel".
At the risk of spoiling the film for others (SPOILER ALERT!), I want to mention there is a particular key character, who surprisingly, is in a gay relationship some 40 years earlier, and the serene joy and extreme pain that relationship caused him for the rest of his life. Though not central to the overall film, this subplot became the focus for me, as it rang true with realism. I could see myself in his position and feel the emotions he was feeling.
Having been close to such a relationship some 30 years ago, the unresolved feelings, the lingering questions and angst, the unrequited love, the forbidden love all come together. Add on top, the complication of a mixed-oriented marriage, of honesty or dishonesty - telling the truth of the past or keeping it hidden, and the burdens of either choice heavy just the same.
Such expressions on film tend to gravitate to the sensational, tapping at the emotional heart-strings and playing on one's sympathy for the plight of the two disconnected though meant-to-be lovers. Though this film does take that liberty, it also subtly plays the hand of showing the hurt, the pain, the anguish and the understanding of the wife in this triangle. Often, the wife is forgotten, even disposed of, an unnecessary item in an otherwise ideal relationship. But this wife knew, and accepted, even allowed the reconnection of her husband with his lover of his youth, with respect and dignity, yet obvious hurt just the same.
The scene could have ended, forgetting the wife, discarding her, and yet, another key character witnessing this scene goes to her and asks her how she feels and how she can accept this aspect of her husband. Though off-camera, we learn second hand, nonetheless, that she can accept this part of her husband because they have been honest with each other from the beginning, that they have nothing to hide, and because of that, she can trust him with the arrival of this long lost romance returned.
The resolution of this little subplot is never fully explored, but even the vignette that is offered, has created a dialog between me and my wife. I was a bit uncomfortable at first with this portrayal of the subject - often mixed-oriented marriages are not discussed positively at all - and I was pleased that after the film, full of other stories and vignettes we could have discussed, we centered on this one for blatantly obvious reasons of hitting squarely home. She was taken back by the subject in general, seeing the gay relationship praised and the mixed-oriented marriage downplayed. Yet, as we opened up to each other, I was able to point out that the wife's feelings were expressed, honored and validated, that the key points of honesty and trust came through more so than in validating the impossible relationship of the two men of different cultures in an uncompromising time, that their marriage was a happy one, a complete one, a valid one, even with the husband admittedly gay, BECAUSE of their honesty and trust and love for and in each other! In essence, though not the intent of the story, for me, it was showing how a mixed-oriented marriage could and SHOULD work!
Upon this conclusion, my wife agreed and came to terms with it and was pleased with the points I helped her to see and we confirmed something in each other, and held hands walking down the sunset-drenched streetscape to our car. We embraced and in silence, looking at each other, were able to connect in a way over a film, that validated the joy we have found in our marriage together.
A powerful film, indeed.
In last week's church leadership meeting where the Bishop was discussing some recent concerns of the stake and area authorities, a discussion insued where a very sweet and kind elderly brother, the slightly short, round and balding type with a white beard not unlike Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, got off on the current state of politics in the country and the recent events surrounding the same-sex marriage debate. He then said something that was very mean-spirited...
"You know, Bishop, this gay marriage thing is so ridiculously stupid. First they want equal rights in marriage, and then what... will they want to marry a chicken?"
The Bishop responded with a nervous and a bit uneasy half-chuckle: "Yeah... kind of ridiculous, huh?" and then looked at me for support. I looked at him with a disturbed and uncomfortable demeanor. I was biting my tongue. I wanted to strike out and speak up and respond with some kind of rebuttle of how "ridiculous" the statement even was, how insensitive and mean-spirited and uninformed, and inappropriate it was... but I didn't for fear of being too contentious and fearful of inappropriately losing control in such a setting. Like always, I stirred inside and let it go, convincing myself that anything I said would come out wrong and mean-spirited in return.
However, after the meeting, the Bishop pulled me aside into his office and we had a one-on-one at his request. He asked me for advice about how to handle some issues at hand, and then said:
"Is something bothering you?"
I responded, this time without hesitation, "Yeah... I'm feeling really uneasy about the mean-spirited nature of the comments regarding same-sex marriage. I don't think that was appropriate, and I should have said something."
"I hear you," the Bishop said directly, which surprised me a bit, particularly with his tepid response in the meeting. "I was not sure what to say myself and I felt I should have said something more."
He could sense my discomfort level and pressed for my input... so I let him have it...
"If you want to take my temple recommend away, then so be it, but I need you to know that I don't support this current attitude of free-to-make-fun-of gay people who desire to live in a loving monogamous relationship and seek society's blessing and encouragement to do so. I don't support the Brethren like Elder Packer who lead members in a way to lack compassion, empathy and understanding and provide an avenue for such public open ridicule where stalwart members feel it safe to express such mean-spirited comments in a church leadership meeting."
"I agree..." he nodded supportively encouraging me onward...
"And I feel that this issue is not going to go away, nor should it. I firmly believe that a change will come with the next generation of church leadership. It may take this generation of elderly misguided brothers in the ward, as well as in the Quorum of the Twelve, to pass on... but it will come, and with it will come more compassion, informed understanding and embracing of our gay brothers and sisters... But it won't come and it won't happen as long as we allow such discussions to take place without correction, especially in a leadership meeting situation. I am sorry I didn't speak up."
"I'm sorry you didn't speak up as well. I totally believe the same as you," he said sensitively.
"Really?" I questioned.
"Really! I need your support..."
At that point, there was a knock at the door and his next appointment had arrived and so we deferred the discussion to another time... but at least, if there is any consolation to all this, the foundation has been set for another discussion on this matter, and hopefully next time I hope to have the spirit of love within me, that kind that John G-W so easily exemplifies, to counter without contention, to instruction without malice, to correct without judgment.
And in the spirit of this election environment, there most certainly will be another opportunity to do so.