Go down the road that splits at the Starbucks until you see the statue of the man with the lobster. Enter the theater doors beyond the statue of the man with the lobster, purchase a ticket for the film named The Grand Budapest Hotel, walk thirty paces until you reach the theater doors, sit in the fourth seat from the left aisle in the seventh row. Don’t forget the popcorn. This might be the way Wes Anderson, in his hysterically deadpan narrative voice, might instruct you to see the latest in his repertoire of modern film masterpieces.
Starring more celebrities that can be named, Anderson’s film is a spectacle, a delicacy, a mystery and a retro hipster party, all rolled into one. Start with the narrator, the author played by Tom Wilkinson, who speaks directly into the camera while he tries to avoid the plastic darts of his grandson’s toy gun. Then cut to the next narrator, the younger version of the author, played by Jude Law, who engages in conversation with the old owner of the once great Grand Budapest Hotel. This man then becomes our narrator, who describes the series of events that led him from being a poor immigrant bellboy, under the tutelage of the great hotel concierge Mr. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), to real estate and hotel tycoon. Did you follow all that? Now, the story begins.
The film dances from pastel colored environments reminiscent of the cardboard cut-out sets in a high school play to wicked, quick moments of graphic violence, such as a number of fingers being chopped off with the slamming of a door. True to his style, the film is unmistakably Anderson and yet unrecognizably new. There are a number of film buffs who would hate absolutely everything about an Anderson film. They’ll complain that the crude sets and animation draws them out of the film, which is true. They’ll complain that the characters rarely speak as the average person might speak, which is also true. Each of Anderson’s films are the same, which is only partially true. Those with more technical knowledge of cinematography will claim that Anderson frames his shots center-justified, rather than the traditional thirds rule, which again is entirely accurate. But what these critics fail to do is what every film invites us to do- to suspend our notions of reality and to step out of our own eyes and into someone else’s. The Grand Budapest doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ place because it isn’t; it exists in this other world, this world that playfully acknowledges our voyeurism while also seriously engaging in the deep emotional contexts of our lives. Once one disengages from their notions of reality and allows Anderson’s world to be its own place, just as any fantasy film demands, the beauty of the narrative and the fascinating characters is given its full force. Did we complain about Kafka’s novels because they all seemed the same? Or about Woody Allen’s films because they all take place in Manhattan? Anderson’s eye is his own, and while we who adore his films appreciate his fascinating staging and brilliant dialogue, it is his plots, his in-depth characters and his heart-wrenching themes that, just like any film, make him a stand-out director of our time.
Just like any great artist before him, Anderson is creating his own genre, his own perspective on this world. His is quintessentially contemporary and definitively 21st century, a version of reality that the younger generation appreciates and the older generation scratches their heads at. Anderson’s thematic scope is summed up by Gustave H who, while sitting in a confessional pretending to be a monk on the top of an Alpine mountain delivering a speech to the man who betrayed him with his trusted bellboy by his side, declares “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–k it.” In each of Anderson’s films, and now more than ever before, Anderson reminds us that we’re part of the film experience, that what we see on screen is not real, and that the world portrayed is a mockery of the real world around us. But, despite all this, the magic of cinema prevails, and we still find ourselves transported into the seamless, chaotic, and brilliant Grand Budapest Hotel.