As the all-star team of British thespians entering their twilight years disembark from their plane in India at the beginning of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the particularly closed-minded Jean (Penelope Wilton) claims to know a little something about the native culture from reading Rudyard Kipling. Of course, she is referring to “The Jungle Book” and other works that famed British author Kipling wrote about his country of birth.
However, if there was one thing I learned from all three of my high school history classes, it was that Kipling appears in textbooks for something else he wrote. It’s a little ditty called “The White Man’s Burden,” and the first verse goes like this:
Take up the White Man’s burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need…
Kipling’s poem was written to encourage the United States to join Britain in its endeavor to colonize the uncivilized East at a time when it was said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because their holdings were so vast and widespread. While I doubt this poem crossed the minds of director John Madden or the rest of the cast, I found it beautifully ironic. “The White Man’s Burden” would explain the troublesome undercurrent of neo-colonialism that runs throughout the movie, just as it can persuade them into thinking their adventurous escapade to India is just and noble.