The Grand Budapest Hotel – Rage, Rage Against the Dying of Your Light

There’s a lot of discussion surrounding this film. It’s a Wes Anderson masterpiece, a stunning look at framing in film, a gorgeously designed world, and it’s adorably funny for most of its runtime. But this isn’t quite the delightful romp that most people see it as.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film about finding the bright spots in a life of pain. The painting doesn’t matter. The confectionary sugar visuals don’t matter. They are distractions from the utter tragedy off the characters in this film.

“And then they shot him.” Such a simple line, delivered directly and with little emotion, should not be able to elicit such pain from an audience. And yet, when I saw it, I felt a little death inside my heart. I’m far from the only one, there’s no way, but in that instant you feel an utter isolation and darkness that has surrounded the life of Zero Mustafa (Tony Revalori) as he lost arguably the most influential person in his life; a best friend, a mentor, and even a father-figure. When we meet Zero he’s an old man, visiting the shabby old wreck of a hotel that he owns, and he’s wallowing in his losses. He never stays in a suite, merely in a tiny closet of a room that he used to occupy as a youth. There’s something profoundly disturbing and real in that to me, existing alone in a room looking at the past in order to remain functional. I’m living in that right now, and I hold no illusions about it.

And looking back, we feel a certain nostalgic love for those moments when we were happy, and we tend to get lost in them. Wes Anderson has always dealt with tragic existence, but he’s never gone down the rabbit hole on quite this level. As someone grounded in near-crippling depression, I understand the desire to look back on the things that made you happy and cling to them to ground yourself in an attempt to live. It’s not always a healthy way to live, but no human is always healthy and we have to acknowledge that.

And Zero’s mentor was an odd mixture of okay and borderline sociopathic. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is an exotic individual, burying himself in romantic poetry and excessive cologne as he beds old women in an attempt to be included in their wills. He’s a gross individual, but also a sweet and kind one. And he takes Zero under his wing, training the boy for excellence and to care deeply about his job. In doing so they find a family in one another that has not existed in their lives to this point. He dotes on Zero’s fiancee, he invites the boy on an adventure with him, and he defends him viciously from anyone who would do him harm. The boy latches onto this and the loss of it haunts him for his entire life. When I first did observations as a psychology major I was immediately thrust in the deep end, having to listen to a child describe the pain they were going through in a clinical and detached way. It’s how I’ve viewed my own pains, able to discuss them as though discussing a bothersome fly. Zero, early on, bluntly and quietly admits that he is an orphan. He then later merely states, “…and then they shot him,” a darkly clinical way to describe what happened to the best friend he ever had. He later states the fate of his wife and child in the same cold, absent tone. He prefers to remember them as they were, and not as what happened to them.

And that struggle pervades the lives of so many, myself included, and it makes a strong impact on those living in a constant state of depression. Zero Mustafa is a broken man, only able to find light when it appears that someone is interested in the happiest time in his life. The brilliance and majesty of human existence isn’t the beginning or the end, it’s those points in the middle. We may misremember things, existing as our own unreliable narrators, but who is to say whether or not this is right? Looking back on those lights, they get brighter in darker times. They give us a grounding, and I think that’s what Wes Anderson was getting at here. When faced with one emotionally crippling defeat after another, sometimes hanging onto those bright spots is all we have. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing death in these essays, a topic that has always fascinated me, but I wanted to highlight something that gives one a reason to go on. Because there always is.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Though wise men know at their end that dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright,

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • Dylan Thomas

I included that poem because it races through my mind every single time I watch this film. When it’s dark, when it’s hard, I can look at the bright spots in my life and hang onto them for the will to carry on. And that’s what this film is about. It’s all about holding on to the beauty in this life and fighting against the darkness, against the dying of your light. Wes Anderson is telling us to use these things, to not wallow in them as Zero did, but to use them to find new light and life. Most people these days associate this poem with Interstellar, another film and one that used it profusely as a statement about humanity at large, but for me it’s always been a poem that leaps into my head in this movie.

That’s Wes Anderson’s ultimate statement. Remember what makes you happy, even if it’s through rose colored glasses that turn everything a nice, soft shade of pink. Because that’s how you find the power to continue existing sometimes. He’s telling us, through this admittedly hilarious yet tragic film, to not go gently into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of your light.

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