RCGS Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Dear Reader,

I want to begin this post with the comment that The Grand Budapest Hotel contains two or three or four scenes that are so disgustingly vile, nihilistic and offensive to God that a sober Christian, in good conscience, could not watch the movie without it having been lightly edited beforehand. That having been said, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest is, from an artistic perspective, a very good movie that stands out amidst the septic tank of 21st century cinema. While you will be treated to Anderson’s visual appreciation for outlandish pastels, nihilistic pranks, and clever dialogue, what is most pleasing about the movie is how decidedly conservative it is.

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Nihilists like Wes Anderson famously have very bad manners, but more than anything, The Grand Budapest Hotel, set somewhere in sonorous and snowy early 20th century mitteleuropa, is a love song for the death of European manners and culture, and maybe if the door is closed, and after a few drinks, Anderson might admit the movie is a dirge for the death of Europe herself. Yes, there is the madcap zaniness you would expect from a Wes Anderson movie. The movie tells the story of a death and squabble over an inheritance and involves prison escapes, ski chases, and cross-ethnic sweethearts. But it is more about the slow death a hotel, which itself is an image of the slow death of Europe.

In The Grand Budapest, we pass from the post-Habsburg era through something like World War II and even encounter Nazis. However, thankfully the movie is not about how terrible World War II was and as a result how terrible Europe, Christianity and the old order was. The movie is about how awful war is and how the moronic, fratricidal wars of 20th century destroyed our civilization. The Nazis are appropriately shown in their vulgarity, but that is exactly what they should look like from the perspective of old Europe—the new Europe is even more vulgar and evil than the Nazis ever were.

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As I have warned you, reader, it is a Ralph Fiennes movie, and as a Ralph Fiennes movie it has a few good looking, talented and witty Europeans committing impure acts on screen. But, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes demonstrates why he is a great actor—even though his palpable arrogance prevents him from reaching the level excellent acting. Fiennes is able to immerse himself in his character but always reminds  his audience that he is Ralph Fiennes acting. As the plot escalates, the usual suspects of a Wes Anderson arrive, including a William Defoe, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. Adrien Brody, who plays a mad aristocrat, is a little shaky as he appears to be trying really hard to be in a Wes Anderson movie.

What the movie needed more than anything is the deep Christian manners rooted in an even deeper system of moral virtue rooted in a profound incarnational theology. As RCGS has written before, Christianity is not nihilistic, but there a number of paradoxical similarities between such obviously opposing world-views. This grounding would have perfected the movie. There are moments where, like Peter Jackson in the Hobbit, Wes Anderson is trying a little too hard to make a Wes Anderson movie, but an edited version of The Grand Budapest Hotel is worth watching for a very select, mature audience trying to come to grips with the last whimpers of European Christian civilization.

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