115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Scratching the Surface: Art as Transcendence in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel

S. Kye Terrasi, University of Washington

In this presentation I examine the function of art in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and its potential to resist and transform destructive forces such as the relentless advance of time and the pervading sense of loss and anxiety that characterized turn of the century Vienna.

Proposal: 

In his film The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson painstakingly creates an exquisite facade through his mis-en-scene, characters and their actions. This glorification of surface elements is in kee ping with turn of the century Vienna’s projected image of itself as a splendid, powerful and enduring symbol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anderson's intense focus on appearance and the stylized visual imagery in his film are a direct and penetrating critique of the time period which he so faithfully and painstakingly recreates. Anderson deliberately adopts these tropes of nostalgia so heavily associated with Vienna not out of fascination or affinity, but in order to create an atmosphere of order and perfection which he can systematically contradict and undermine. He consciously creates images of exaggerated and mannered beauty and refinement, only to undercut them to reveal the reality beneath. It is not nostalgia that drives this film, but rather the unmasking of it.

 

In this presentation I examine the function of art in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and its potential to resist and transform destructive forces such as the relentless advance of time and the pervading sense of loss and anxiety that characterized turn of the century Vienna. Anderson’s concentration on the superficial, his mannered main character who meets an early demise and themes such as dissolution, destruction and death are all suggestive of ephemera and impermanence. However, Anderson’s structure of the film, which starts with the ‘writer’ and spans decades of time only to return to a final image of the writer’s book, suggests that despite the relentless onslaught and destruction of time, when the “good die young” and M. Gustave’s world had “disappeared long before he even entered it,” art is the one medium which preserves what is lost and in which the temporal can endure beyond itself. This is similar to other artistic representations of the time, such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s attempt to escape the limits of traumatized consciousness, ultimately finding respite in art, or Klimt’s The Beethoven Frieze, in which suffering humanity finds redemption through poetry and music.

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