The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Unreliable Narrator


To describe a Wes Anderson film all we can say that it’s a Wes Anderson film such is the enigma of the man he single-handedly created a genre which is both whimsy and attractive. Distinct shot selection with the camera moving in almost every shot and an OCD-like obsession for centered frames are among his signature style. Every film of his is outlandishly stylish with superb production design but it has never been as good as “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. In the film, we can sense both a progression and summarizing of the entire Wes Anderson canon. Just plain fun, full of the filmmaker’s signature flourishes and curlicues, worked out with skill and finesse. Anderson sets new cinematic trends on the way as he creates something mesmerizingly stunning.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is written by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, it has a multi-laired narrative flow which is constructed through a frame within a frame narrative structure. This is a story about a young man finding love, is a lobby boy at a glorious landmark of a hotel is told by his older self to the younger version of a man who then writes a book that is ultimately remembered by a young girl. The continuous change of the narrators creates a sense of urgency in the story and a bit of mystery which is certainly a new element the Wes Anderson arsenal. These constant and uncanny changes of narrators make the case of the unreliable narrator.


This film has a downright strange obsession with frames. Where there are narrative framing elements within the cinematic frames chasing literal frames throughout the film using narrative framing devices. The film shows framing people for crimes within the narrative, looking out over the vast story about to tell through a pair of speckled frames. Even the whole film has different frames around it all the time because of the different aspect ratios.


The film is ultimately about pathos, the love story ends in tragedy the hotel ultimately goes to disrepair and is ultimately demolished. Gustave dies, Agatha dies, one of our narrator dies actually most of our narrator dies. Unlike other films of the director, this film doesn’t end on a happy note but such is Anderson’s understanding of his audiences that he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.


It’s Zero Mustafa’s life seen through the eyes of different people. He has lived a life of pain and misery but for one feting moment of time he was happy especially in this particular story it’s not about the end in a lot of ways, it’s about reliving the ecstasy of the past over and over again. We are nothing if not for our memories locked in a constant state of reliving our past and editing it to suit our different needs as we tell our favorite stories from our lives over and over again.

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The bulk of the story takes place directly in between World War one and two when the power vacuum created by the First World War gave rise to the ever-expanding empires like Japan, Russia, and Germany. The motif of the film also talks about a power vacuum creating a power struggle between expanding empires. But in the end, it didn’t really matter which side own because every side lost something or the other like the wars. The film looks are those great wars with empathy and points out the pointlessness of the entire process.

Wes Anderson once said in an interview, “I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision, I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”


Anderson celebrates time, places, people, and relationships both old and new alike in this film. The structure of the narrative keeps going back in the timelines which elevate the importance of nostalgia. The hotel is the symbol of everlasting nostalgia which is why it’s an enchanting old ruin. Critics often say that Anderson’s films are superficial or vague but I beg to differ from these opinions, he creates a particular brand of films which are extremely pleasing to the eyes, relaxed but at the same time also is whimsy, it’s like striking the right balance of whimsy and brilliance. The way all the characters are portrayed in the film narrates their individual stories with their dialogues. The film starts in a cemetery and end with the news of one of the protagonist’s death.

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As a writer-director, Anderson had already made a name for himself as a visionary. The whole film is constructed in a way that it hides in plain sights. The unreliability of the narrators helps the story in a way because the entire story is so much removed from an actual reality that it is assuredly played up for effect passing through so many hands and no doubts increasing an absurdity with which is kind of a perfect way to construct a Wes Anderson film.


The man to whom the film is dedicated to is Stefan Zweig, an Austria-Hungarian novelist, and playwright. He once said, “My life was still governed in some odd way by the idea that everything was only temporary.” It is the motif of the film. Nothing lasts forever but art is almost immortal because you can choose to experience it again and again, like in this case the film.


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