romance reclaimed – the grand budapest hotel

“To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say — he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”

– Zero Mustafa, The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’m enamored by the language of Wes Anderson — the flair, the pomp. What is it about fancy language? What is it about a movie like The Grand Budapest Hotel that makes us want to stay there forever?

It’s a vision of a world that we would all like to inhabit. And it uses the language of world-construction as well, and we can all take a note from it. Because if you’re like me, you leave a cinematic experience like this with an unmistakable afterglow, and a linguistic aftertaste. You speak a bit more… grandiloquently. And rightly so — because there’s something special in the language of this film, and others like it. Exquisite, sophisticated language like this is something of a relic in our culture, viewed as artifice through the American lens. But there might be more to it than that.

Part of the enchanting effect of M. Gustave and his protege and later biographer Mustafa is romantic: their meticulous attention to detail, adherence to the stoic hotel service ethos, and eventual affinity for poetry.

This is a movie about romance. As Gustave says about Agatha when told  that she admires him, he replies, “That’s good. That means she gets it.” Which, is sort of self-aggrandizing in a way, in an ironic type of way, but simultaneously embracing the overassurance and truth of the statement at once. Because romance, what attracts us to this kind of experience, what attracts us to a glamorous vision of the Grand Budapest Hotel, in all of its disciplined splendor, is its vision, upheld by the subtlest of codes. It’s more a sensibility than anything, and what is harder to cultivate and preserve, than a sensibility? Where does sensibility lie? But I have to admit, the people I enjoy most in this world are the most capable of grasping sensibility, in one way or another. 

Romantic poetry is a sensibility. Exquisite service is a sensibility. Passionate love, enduring friendship, and integrity are all sensibilities. They are fine, delicate, complex systems of combined feeling and understanding — and when harnessed, they can do wonders. They come as close as possible to manifesting the visions that we hold in our hearts for the world at large, and they give us those shivers of purpose that make it all seem worthwhile.

“It’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality.” – Ray Bradbury

The language, the aesthetic, the ceremony — maybe there is something in it after all. My age group and my generation, the group of ruthlessly postmodern youths, seems to enjoy stripping down ceremony wherever it can, considering it mere artifice. But maybe there is a recurring generational pattern here; where each generation active rejects the ceremony and tradition of that generation prior, having to inhabit the world of raw feeling and terse prose before it begins to understand the true value of refined manners, linguistic flair, honored rituals.

Maybe these things aren’t so oppressive, maybe they have a role in our lives after all, one of creating a shared language for a vision we can all appreciate. A universal code and aesthetic by which we can work to create and preserve something that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like the Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a way of living very intelligently, intentionally, endowing each of our words and actions with the depth of having consciously chosen it in the framework of a larger context of individual and communal meaning. And that the process of intuiting these signs and codes is one that is synonymous with our worthwhile rites of passage as we grow into adulthood. Who knows.

Maybe the mystique and subsequent fascination we feel behind a character like Gustave is that we perceive the whole of his life in each part. Each little movement, action, word, is deep, and percieved as more profound, more sagacious, because it has the weight of an entire vision behind it. A vision being manifested bit by bit as we watch. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is.

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

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