The Grand Budapest Hotel delightfully capitalizes on theological themes, particularly as a solitary existence. Despite more emphasis on the film’s characters and their series of unfortunate events, distractions are used to disguise religious context. Such interference allow Wes Anderson to make consistent use of stylized planimetric shots as he appropriately and strategically banters the film with a deliberate choice of props and settings. Thus, Anderson is able to engage his audience with well crafted implementations of Mise-en-scene. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a vehicle for visual allurement and intellectual depth—particularly its theological undertones.
In the film’s opening scene, I’m immediately subjected and immersed into Anderson’s vision as he intentionally opens the scene with a planimetric frame. The setting is visualized as a full-shot of a fictitious European city with German elements almost in same vein as Michael Wolgemut’s Radeburga page from the Nuremberg Chronicle. The overarching view of this city appears to be much higher and more symmetrical in nature. It’s obviously apparent to me that Anderson has taken cues from late medieval or early Northern Europe renaissance paintings. This is particularly noticeable with the film’s use of linear perspective, which ultimately resonates with the planimetric frame he uses for the entirety of the film.
What I find quite fascinating is Anderson’s placement of his actors. For instance, in the opening shot is a full-figure profile of a man leaning against a street light. I’ve noticed Anderson is keen on using statuesque actors—static in presence and posture and almost like a statue. This is an example of Anderson’s visual enticement that positively and frequently plagues other scenes throughout the film. For example, in the museum scene, Anderson instills Kovac in a room full of Roman statues where he almost mockingly pokes fun of his own style. Also, statuesque actors are present as the camera scrolls left and three disciple-esque men—all in black are seen sitting on a bench. This is really the moment I realized connotations of theology, especially with the slew of cross headstones witnessed as the camera scrolls. Even the window frames on the outer buildings are engraved with cross-like symbols. Once the monument is in frame—it’s this prop I feel that really emphasizes a supreme observer or a higher consciousness if you will—that indirectly looks over the entirety of events in the film.
In a medium shot of the monument and the young girl is a building to the upper left of the shot with a crack at it’s rooftop. Uncannily, the crack resembles the Eye of Providence, Eyes of Buddha, or the Eye of Horus—all of which represent harmony or even royal power and protection. Ironically, a sense of safe conformity is present throughout the scene and it’s possible this peculiar symbol reflects that. My opposing theory is that the symbol could reflect misfortune or bad luck— both of which are central to the film. Some religions deemed imagery of eye symbols as sacrilegious, a curse, or even linked it to alchemy during the early European renaissance era.
Profound imagery is put into effect in the cat-and-mouse sequence between Kovac and Jopling at the museum, most notably in a shot where Kovac is directly facing the viewer and walking up a set of stairs. On the bottom of the film noir shot lays a stairwell with a cast of four light beams, which really is giving a sense that Kovac might be climbing the stairway to heaven. The shadow of Jopling emerges not far behind, but the light beams shown in the previous cut is lacking, thus giving the impression of darkness. This capture really sets the stage for what’s to come with Kovac’s ultimate demise as he loses exactly four fingers. The overall scene—littered with afterlife paraphernalia and Egyptian props— concludes with a special focus on ankhs. It’s apparent that Anderson is really associating death with greed in conscience to the character and plot. The door slamming shut indicates that Kovac did not gain victory advancing his escape. Perhaps Jopling symbolizes the tangible existence of misfortune that is foreshadowed in the opening scene— in a clear scenario of good versus evil.
Without question Anderson effectively exploits elements of theology as an underlying theme in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Immediately, Anderson drew me in with his stylish use of planimetric framing and carefully constructed placement of statuesque actors. Truly, Anderson’s stylish imagery is bait for deeper profoundness. In particular, his representation of giving the monument prop from the opening scene a higher consciousness or awareness for the viewer. This provides the viewer a foundation for further observation.