Wes Anderson films are like little cinematic snow globes. They’re intricate. They’re meticulously put together by someone who loves his craft. They’re truly unique little worlds that I wish I could jump inside and wander around in for hours at a time. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Anderson adds yet another “snow globe” to a body of work that fans will treasure for years to come.
The story centers around Grand Budapest concierge Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), his friendship with lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), and the adventures that ensue when Gustave is framed for the murder of the incredibly wealthy Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). With a large inheritance at stake the “vipers” come out, as Gustave puts it, and it’s up to he and his friends (including Zero’s love interest Agatha, played by Saoirse Ronan) to set things right.
As with most Wes Anderson films, the thing I love about them is that so many of his characters are incredibly refined, yet they possess numerous idiosyncrasies that set them apart from one another. They’re all smart, but they don’t come across as clones because so much attention to detail has been paid to flesh out their histories, likes, dislikes and dispositions. If each character were compared to a color I would say that they are often similar shades, but that the pleasure comes from noting the subtle differences between them.
In between each shade of the same color are in fact infinite differences, and Wes Anderson’s appreciation for that is what resonates with this moviegoer.
Mr. Gustave is a man with whom, even if I were to disagree, I would not find him disagreeable. He harkens back to a day when strong differences in opinion were handled with class and dignity. It’s humorous for modern audiences — raised in the time and age in which the politics of personal destruction are the norm — to see on the big screen, but deep down we long for the world to breed more Gustaves:
M. Gustave: “Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower. I’m reminded of a verse: ‘The painter’s brush touched the inchoate face with ends of nimble bristles.'”
Even when he’s vulgar, he has class:
Mr. Gustave: Oh, how the good die young. With any luck she’s left a few klubecks for your old friend, but one never knows until the ink is dry on the death certificate. She was fabulous in the sack, by the way.
Zero: She was 84, Mr. Gustave.
Mr. Gustave: I’ve had older. When you’re young it’s all fillet steak, but as the years go by you have to move on to the cheaper cuts, which is fine with me because I like those. More flavorful, or so they say.
He has standards. He lives by a set a principles and does his best to stick to them.
Mr. Gustave: “The beginning of the end of the end of the beginning has begun. The sad finale played off key on a broken down saloon piano in the outskirts of a forgotten ghost town. I’d rather not bear witness to such blasphemy. … The Grand Budapest has become a troops barracks. I shall never cross its threshold again in my lifetime.
And when facing Death’s door, he is stoic:
Mr. Gustave: If this to be the end, ‘Farewell!’ cried the wounded piper boy whist the muskets cracked and the yeoman cried “Hurrah!” and the ramparts fell. ‘Me thinks me breaths me last me fears,’ said he…”
We laugh at Gustave’s idealism, but we secretly wish we had 1/10 of his decency and decorum.
There are two scenes which, in my mind, best sum up Gustave’s friendship with Zero. Because I don’t want to include spoilers, I will only refer to the exchange where Gustave asks if he can officiate Zero’s future wedding with Agatha:
Mr. Gustave: May I officiate, by the way — the ceremony?
Zero: With pleasure.
Mr. Gustave: I must say, I find that girl utterly delightful. Flat as a board, enormous birthmark the shape of Mexico over half her face. Sweating for hours on end in that sweltering kitchen where Mendl — genius that he is — looms over her like a hulky guerrilla. Yet, without question, without fail, always and invariably she’s exceedingly lovely. Why? Because of her purity.
Zero: She admires you as well, Mr. Gustave.
Mr. Gustave: Does she?
Zero: Very much.
Mr. Gustave: That’s a good sign, you know. It means she gets it. That’s important.
Zero: Don’t flirt with her.
The audience knows that Gustave is at his core a good man, but like all of us he is deeply flawed. He wishes to officiate at his friend’s wedding, but both know that if given a chance he would sleep with Agatha. He admires her purity, but can not help himself for wanting to steal it. He strives to embody the best within him, yet regularly succumbs to his basest desires. He lives to serve others, yet often uses that service to fulfill his own selfish needs.
Like all of us, Mr. Gustave is a fusion of the decadent and the divine. With that said, he also aims to project that fusion in its most presentable package. Like the Mendl’s confectionery treats that play an important part of the film, The Grand Budapest Hotel shows us that beneath the pristine packaging and painstaking work we go to in order to appear a cut above the rest, our pomp and circumstance and cute little bow ties often belie our insides.
Some might say that such a message is a hopeless one — we’re all rotten inside. I disagree. Like I said: we are a fusion of the depraved and the sublime. That is the service rendered for human flesh. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s message, to me, is that while we may not be pure, by striving to become a better version of ourselves we can more often than not be “invariably and exceedingly” lovely.
Agatha says at one point in the movie: “Whence came these two radiant celestial brothers united for an instant as they crossed the stratosphere or our starry window — one from the East and one from the West?”
Answer: the mind of Wes Anderson. Hopefully, he’ll be turning out “radiant celestial brothers” on screen for years to come.