Lavish Lifestyles and Enchanting Thrills: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Gus Dexheimer, Co-Editor in-Chief

It is not often that I, a stingy teenager, pay eleven dollars of my hard earned cash to watch a two hour drama in the dark cold of a movie theater.

It is even less often that I pay eleven dollars on three separate occasions to see the same movie three separate times.

And it is almost unheard of that I would spend ten dollars on an iTunes purchase of a movie that I’ve already seen three times in theaters. There is something exceptional about a movie like that.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, written and directed by Wes Anderson, opens on a graveyard in a fictional country in the European alps where a young girl is honoring the author of the book she holds in her mittened hands. Within minutes, we’re taken back to the year 1985 where the same author (Tom Wilkinson, later Jude Law) begins a prologue narrative to a journey he took in the year 1968.  From here, we travel to the scene of the author’s narrative where we see The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time, past its glory years, an “enchanting old ruin.”

After one of the central characters, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham, later Tony Revolori), the reclusive owner of the Grand Budapest, is introduced we travel back once more to the year 1932 where we see the hotel at the height of its fame. This is where the story really begins, told from the point of view of  Zero circa 1968. Young Zero has just been hired as a lobby boy under the employment of the renowned and larger-than-life Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).

The most striking part of this movie is its aesthetic appeal. Every view is saturated in rich violets, deep reds, and bright pastel pinks. Every last detail is intentional, from the fox shaped bolo tie around the police chief’s neck, to the sweeping mural that coats the floor of the concierge desk, to Zero’s carefully drawn-on mustache. Almost every shot pleasantly frames the subject exactly in the center of the screen, painting a clean, gorgeous picture every time you look up. This detailed, attentive beauty created an atmosphere unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was so absorbed by the breathtaking uniqueness of what I was watching that I immediately felt committed to the story and the characters.

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And the characters are really what make this movie a masterpiece. One of my favorites is Monsieur Gustave, who initially appears to be a superficial, bossy womanizer. As it turns out, he is the most charming character since Augustus McCrae of Lonesome Dove. He is constantly doused in his favorite scent, l’air de panache, he calls everyone “darling” and “chap,” and he lives to serve his guests. Famous for reciting romantic verses of poetry at every turn, he is known throughout that part of the fictional world for his delightful charisma, his effortless people skills, and his inherent kindness. At one point in the film, he finds himself in a high-security prison in the middle of the snowy alps. Even there he is befriended by all he encounters and he’s even given the job of “mush distributer” at breakfast each morning.

M. Gustave begins his day.
M. Gustave begins his day.

As he writes from prison to the staff of the Grand Budapest, M. Gustave maintains his high esteem for the institution and his professional attitude.

“…Until I walk amongst you again as a free man, the Grand Budapest remains in your hands, as does its impeccable reputation. Keep it spotless, and glorify it. Take extra-special care of every little bitty bit of it as if I were watching over you like a hawk with a horse-whip in its talons, because I am… A great and noble house has been placed under your protection.”

Something about M. Gustave’s unassuming appreciation of people and institutions and his undying good nature give him an unusual magnetism–he can feel at home anywhere, around anyone. Most importantly, he governs his life based on an incredibly strong and noble moral compass.

But The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t just deal with lavish lifestyles and enchanting thrills. There are hints that the fictional version of World War II is moving through the countryside and that it will not sit well with M. Gustave’s lively, joyous way of life. This looming tragedy brings tension to the story. Additionally, since 1932, when he first met M. Gustave, the elder Zero has undergone many adventures and many tragedies. In the year 1968 when he is telling the tale, he has retired to a rather lonely life, so the whole account of the past smacks of nostalgia and bittersweet memories. Right alongside  the themes of adventures and fascinating friendships are themes of loss and longing for the past.

Finally, the lucky viewer of The Grand Budapest Hotel has the fortune of getting to experience practically every genre and every emotion known to man– it’s a thriller, a murder mystery, a comedy, a romance; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you were living in that fantastic made-up world. There are so many facets of the story to love: from the delightful romance that crops up between Zero and a local baker girl, Agatha, to the many cameos made by popular Wes Anderson favorites like Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman.

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As you watch the exquisite tale unfold, you’ll begin to believe in this lost world and its remarkable characters.  You’ll begin to believe in the charisma and personality of the Grand Budapest. You’ll begin to believe M. Gustave when he says, “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, f*** it.”