The Grand Budapest Hotel: The World Revolves Around M. Gustave H.
In Hugo Guinness’s introduction to The Grand Budapest Hotel’s screenplay, he talks of a friend he and Wes Anderson discussed in parks and cafés in 2007. He was witty, interesting and charming; he was soon to be Gustave. In 2012, Gustave became more than a discussion and imaginary friend. He became the character we know and love today: the bisexual concierge of a hotel in middle Europe on the outbreak of war. He goes on to say, “A plot was devised around him” and this is the basis for this article.
M. Gustave H. played by Ralph Fiennes, was a charismatic man living and working in the fictional place of Zumbroka at the outbreak of war. He is shown as showy, arrogant and meticulous in his work by keeping clients happy and making more come by charming everyone in his wake. In the screenplay he is described as such, “he is tranquil, perfectly composed and waiting. He is wearing the faintest hint of mascara”. His attitude is carefully calculated to be both restrained and camp, going from his strict behaviour at the hotel to swiftly berating Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) on her nail varnish choice. He is if anything a very complex character with the same doll-like surface many of Wes Anderson’s characters possess. He is merely the face of the hotel manufactured out of pride and old fashioned values and very much leaves his lonely victimised self at the door basking in a sense of complete falseness which in the end becomes him permanently as seen by him drinking with the women at the end. As Moustafa says, “he certainly sustained the illusion with marvellous grace” which really says a lot as Gustave is slowly pushed into more and more horrific situations: his client dies, he is humiliated and outed, he is put in prison, is hurt there, loses friends but still keeps up his façade of a calm concierge. These moments make him almost break the facade as shown when he shouts at Zero after the prison escape.
In James MacDowell’s article Wes Anderson, tone and quirky sensibility, he discusses Anderson’s presentation of characters throughout his films: “they (the characters) are treated with greater or lesser degrees of sympathy”. Which is true certainly throughout Anderson’s filmography we feel, sympathy for many of his trademark zany characters from Richie Tenenbaum all the way to Mr. Fox. As an audience we empathise, sympathise and potentially identify with these characters and Gustave is no exception. When Dmitri (Adrien Brody) confronts him in front of Madame D’s family, the audience sympathises, cringes and feels notably distressed for Gustave. The perfect façade is mainly shown when he goes back to his room where he insists on eating on his own every night.This rings back to Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom where Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) eats alone on his boat as he has no one else other than his affair with Mrs. Bishop (Frances MacDormand) showing his life just as sparse. Gustave’s series of encounters with needy, old, rich blondes are meaningless and provide him with no company to eat his dinner with. His room is as boring and empty as Zero’s hinting that perhaps his past is not as perfect and composed as he has become. Unlike Zero though, he makes no effort to sit with them at dinner he always leaves to eat after he gives his sermons to the general staff. He makes no effort to become friends with his colleagues, and perhaps, that too is used to hold up the illusion. Unlike Captain Sharp, for Gustave it stays this way he dies with the knowledge Zero and Agatha are married, but still alone, simply continuing the same behaviour. We never know if he was truly happy or if he was just continuing his façade, slowly becoming faded grandeur just like the hotel itself was.
Gustave is the beating heart behind the Hotel’s success drawing in the wealthy socialites. These socialites are mainly old blondes which foreshadows what Gustave becomes before his death. The entire place revolves around his work whether and bringing in his particular brand of guest (the rich old blonde patrons). These guests too rely on status; they are rich, typically blonde persons who go there to feel important and wanted. As Mr. Moustafa says to Author “they had to be rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial, blonde, needy”. However, the main parallel here occurs towards the end when Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) says, “he was the same as his disciples: insecure, vain, superficial, blonde, needy. In the end he was even rich…he did not succeed, however, in growing old.” Gustave himself wanted to feel important, he wanted to be wanted by the hotel guests, he wanted to officiate at Agatha and Zero’s wedding which he did. He became included and learned things off them that they learned from him. It seemed to be Zero and Agatha were the only true friends he had and he died relatively happy knowing that. He was shot for disputing the soldier’s belief that Zero was travelling on wrong documentation. His power, by then was faded.
Consequently there seems to be an irony then that Gustave, a man who the plot was written around, the beating heart of the hotel, is killed off in such unspectacular fashion away from the place he contributed so much to. Gustave’s death may just be one of the most melancholic elements of the film. It is quick, as it has been relived many times and almost clinical and devoid any of the emotion or meaning death brings most. In the end he died and his old fashioned ways of charm and charisma die with him as signified by the orange décor of the hotel. He was the glue that held the grandeur together, and even with Zero’s best efforts, it fell apart once Gustave was gone.
Anderson, Wes “The Grand Budapest hotel screenplay“. Faber and Faber. 2014
MacDowell, James “Wes Anderson, tone and the quirky sensibility“. Routledge. 2012
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