I finally made time to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last night. It had me up late, wondering if Wes Anderson saw any of himself in the character of Gustave M. In his own way, Anderson creates the illusion that a long-dead sophistication has not left the world. His movies are filled with characters inhabiting haunted ruins of a past prosperity, finding a way to live well in the faded glamor of their lives. But in Gustave, we have a character who works furiously and gracefully to sustain that gilded memory, even though, as Zero admits, the world he protected may have been dead long before he entered it.
It’s not difficult to see parallels between Gustave’s ambitions and the Anderson films. People look at his intense set design and costuming, or at his idiosyncratic and persistent camera work, and they think, isn’t it all a bit much?
The answer, of course, is that no, it is not too much. All of those things are there because they are important, and the camera lingers to allow us to absorb them, before lunging hastily away to the next scene. This brick-a-brack is the detail that sustains human existence. The decor, the clothing, the music: they are chosen with care and treated with respect. Their importance is an illusion, to be certain, but it is an illusion that illuminates a clear and potent truth:
While we cannot control the larger forces in our universe, the minute features of our daily lives allow us a grace and a dignity that we could not otherwise possess.
Gustave’s work and passion are in service of this ideal, in the maintenance of the illusion that we aren’t all ghastly and vulgar creatures, even if we most likely are.