An Ideological Critique of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), is arguably one of his best works and the multiple award wins further emphasize this. Despite that, there are some issues present within the film that has placed it, and Anderson’s body of work under scrutiny— Especially during it’s casting and production. Through the production of Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s film conforms to the status quo by demonstrating a lack of diverse representation in roles of power, its funding and on-screen via the predominantly white-male, heterosexual cast.

Drawing upon my last paper, An Industry Analysis of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)”, one can conclude that the primary individuals calling the shots are all white, middle-aged men. “The film’s story and the script were written by Anderson and Hugo Guinness, with inspiration taken from the written work of Stefan Zweig. It was produced & directed by Wes Anderson, in conjunction with producers Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales and Scott Rudin. In addition, the production design was realized by long- time collaborator of Anderson’s, Adam Stockhausen” (Pearson, 1). Through this, there is a clear lack of representation of marginalized voices in power, including BIPOC, LGBTQIA2s+ and women. This lack of representation clearly influenced the outcome of the film, which is quite patriarchal; a male-centric main cast and women with a lack of depth/story who primarily cater to the whims and needs of the male characters. This is seen with Saoirse Ronan’s character, Agatha- who’ acts as Zero Moustafa’s  (Tony Revolori) love interest, and assists him & Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) in their escapades. Beyond this, the viewer receives little to no insight into her life/story.

In terms of funding, it was made evident that the funds for The Grand Budapest Hotel primarily came from German-based companies, including MFG. Therefore, these companies have a political agenda of promoting their own country as a filming location and their own citizens working in the film industry as cast and crew. So they aren’t primarily investing in cinema as an art form, but rather as a method to promote their own country, culture and film sector, “Making this film heavily influenced by German landscapes, cast & crew” (Pearson, 6). This also ties into the idea that the film caters to a caucasian audience rather than BIPOC.

Continuing on this train of thought, it was stated in the aforementioned paper that the principal cast is, apart of a key circle in the indie film (Hollywood) world and have respected followings and connections that enable Anderson to do a lot more with the budget he has and make more of a profit at the box office. This, outside of camaraderie, is one reason why [Anderson] continues to work with the same cast over and over again (And also why it’s difficult to land a job working on one of his films, due to the clique/inner circle mentality). Furthermore, using much of the same cast & crew helps him save time and money on having new cast & crew learn how to work with him and recreate his visions on-screen” (Pearson, 2). However, the reoccurring cast is often white, middle-aged, heterosexual men— Making The Grand Budapest Hotel reflective of the typical male-dominated Hollywood and status quo. That being said, the most controversial aspect of his casting choice is demonstrated through the actor’s portrayal of the main character, Zero Moustafa. “The character played by F. Murray Abraham (previously in Inside Llweyn Davis and Amadeus). Abraham, also an older white man, is the humble narrator of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s story, explaining to Jude Law’s character how the place came to be. As the story unravels, we learn that Moustafa is in fact the protagonist of this film, telling us the story of his younger self as the lobby-boy for the legendary concierge, Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). The problem here is that the younger version of himself, who we get to see more than we actually see Abraham throughout the film, is a brown-skinned teenage boy of Indian descent (played by Tony Revolori, who in real life is of Guatemalan descent)” (Lorinc). Therefore, there is a form of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation within the film— needless to mention the racial discontinuity present for this character as well (Lorinc). By the same token, “Anderson has never cast a black woman in any significant role; his brand of storytelling is white male-centric (Carlos)”. This clearly goes against contemporary views that have shifted to promote and support BIPOC.

Evidently, there is a clear false consciousness at play during the production of the Grand Budapest Hotel. As stated in Chapter 4 of Film Studies: An Introduction, “The problem with this conception, (…) is that not every belief that people might identify as ideological is necessarily associated with those in a position of dominant political power” (Davis, Glynn et al, 104). Unfortunately, this is the case here. Many individuals in power in Hollywood don’t actively invest in resources to create diversity inclusion & representation in both cast and crew and chose to be gatekeepers of the industry in order to preserve their own success and power. While this may not necessarily be the views Anderson shares, his films including the Grand Budapest Hotel, conform to this by only scarcely casting BIPOC and rarely providing them with central roles or much screen time and lines. Thus, through representing the status quo, The Grand Budapest Hotel does not align with the prominent ideologies of 2020 that support equal rights, diversity inclusion and accurate representation in both the media and on-screen. Therefore, this film’s political nature in favour of the status quo demonstrates the Althusserian belief stated in Chapter 4 of Film Studies: An Introduction, that “Certainly there is such a thing as public demand, but ‘what the public wants’ means ‘what the dominant ideology wants’” ( Davis, Glynn et al, 107).  And, while the hegemonic social-political ideologies of western society are changing and evolving for the better, The Grand Budapest Hotel still aligns with the former/traditional ideologies present within ideological state apparatuses, in this case, the conservative, patriarchal media and patriarchal ideals embodied in older cinema.

In regards to my last paper, “An Industry Analysis of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)”, I approached the film through an industrial lens. In doing so, I analyzed the various production styles that came into play while making the film, as well the industry politics involved in its funding process and the hiring of the cast & crew. This method of analysis opened my eyes to all the efforts that went into making the film the success that it was and provided me with a newfound appreciation for it cinematically. Although, the social politics involved came to no surprise as someone who works in this industry for a living. On the other hand, by analyzing The Grand Budapest Hotel through an ideological lens, the issues that were present within the film’s production and during the film became more apparent. For example, how the majority of Anderson’s body of work lacks diverse representation (Which I wasn’t entirely aware of having not seen them all at the time of writing). Even in The Darjeeling Limited (2007), which was set in India, his main cast is white, middle-aged men— Which is clearly a missed opportunity. This personally goes against my values and beliefs. While I understand that not every film will cater to every audience, I honestly believe there’s isn’t any excuse to NOT be creating non-stereotypical roles with diversity in mind. I believe one must be consciously creating opportunities for diverse voices, instead of constantly making things an insider’s club in order to keep success and representation in the hands of the few. And that goes beyond Hollywood and the film & TV industry. Therefore, it’s through these two analyses’ that a fuller picture of the film’s production is painted.

Through the production of Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s film conforms to the status quo by demonstrating a lack of diverse representation in roles of power, its funding and on-screen via the predominantly white-male, heterosexual cast. The film was written, directed and produced by an all-white, heterosexual male-team and pushed a perspective that aligned with it. It’s funding being from a predominately white country furthered this agenda, by having their own film professionals involved in the film. So while there’s no denying the cinematic achievements & creative ingenuity of Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel, it leaves Anderson fans hoping for a future film that consciously creates equal space for diverse voices both on and off-screen. 

Works Cited

Anderson, Wes, director. Perf. Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman. The Grand Budapest Hotel. 20th Century Studios (FOX), 2014. Online.

Carlos, Marjon. “Why Whoopi Goldberg Calling out Wes Anderson about Race Isn’t a Joke.” Splinter, G/O Media Inc., 22 June 2015, splinternews.com/why-whoopi-goldberg-calling-out-wes-anderson-about-race-1793848581. Accessed Dec 12 2020.

Davis, Glyn et al. “Film and Politics”. Chapter 4 of Film Studies: An Introduction, 95-119.

IMDb Pro. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” IMDb Pro, IMDb.com, N.d, <pro.imdb.com/title/tt2278388/? ref_=search_search_result_1>. Accessed Nov. 18 2020. 

Lorinc, Jacob. “The Grand Budapest Hotel Is Exactly What You Would Expect.” The Varisity, Varsity Publications Inc., 24 Mar. 2014, <thevarsity.ca/2014/03/24/the-grand-budapest-hotel-is-exactly-what-you-would-expect/>.  Accessed Dec 12 2020.

Ryan. “Is Wes Anderson Guilty of White Washing?” Film Fad, Film Fad, 25 June 2015, <www.filmfad.com/is-wes-anderson-guilty-of-white-washing/>. Accessed Dec 12 2020.

Pearson, Kyla. “An Industry Analysis of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)”. Edited by Pearson, Kyla, Kyla Pearson, 2020, 7. <https://www.kylapearson.ca/2020/12/12/an-industry-analysis-of-wes-andersons-the-grand-budapest-hotel-2014/>. Accessed Dec 12 2020.

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