The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), directed by Wes Anderson, is a film that has a primarily male cast and from Anderson’s direction throughout it can be presumed that this is intentional. There are several female characters within the film. Really only two can be considered a main part of the primarily male ensemble cast. Along with that, both of these women meet with perilous fates. But throughout the entire film, there are attempts at challenging the conformity of gender roles that we see frequently in other films such as John Wick (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Because of this, rather than focusing on the positives of female characters, it pushes for the negative stereotypes commonly associated with male characters.
Although the film is primarily male, the majority of the characters are not optimistic or very good portrayals of men. A good chunk of the males are snivelling and violent. Notably Jopling (Willem Dafoe) and Dmitri (Adrien Brody). Either that or they are cowardly and inept, specifically Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) and M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman). Both Jopling and Dmitri are presented in a fashion that makes them an obvious antagonist to the story. It’s quite cliche given the way these characters are dealt with. Jopling is killed off by the heroes and Dmitri is never seen or heard from again by the end of the film. We can tell these two are antagonists given to their obvious clothing codes, which is literally an all black attire for the both of them.
One specific character that does well to present the male gaze throughout is Zero (Tony Revolori) who is given a romantic subplot with Agatha (Saorise Ronan) for the latter half of the film. From this we do see a more cliched plot, however contained within this film it is something out of the ordinary. Given that the main storyline really only contains Zero and Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), it’s difficult to understand where or why a romantic subplot for Zero would come into play. It may be obvious
Wes Anderson is very well known for his presentation of male and female characters and the way that they are produced and presented throughout his films. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson challenges the normal ideas of masculinity and presents his own unique viewpoint. This is no more apparent than in the character of Gustave H. but more importantly the performance of Ralph Fiennes, who plays the role in a way that breaks the traditional gender representation that we expect from a hero role. He’s without a doubt the protagonist if the film, but given the setting, time period and appearance of Gustave H. we wouldn’t expect him to be a character that we can relate to. Considering his role in the film, he’s a very feminine character.
This is notable again in his clothing codes. More prominently, though, in how other characters describe him. Furthermore it’s important we look at the actions he indulges in. During the prison scenes, wherein Gustave loses his colourful, purple clothing and instead dons some black and white, cliched attire, we see that his attitude towards life has not changed. This could be considered a positive. I believe it to be more negative given the delicate situation he finds himself in. However because of this we see that males within the film can in fact be presented as quite strong willed. A sense that Gustave is never truly disappointed for a considerable amount of time.
Although the presence of males throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel is overwhelming, the portrayal of women throughout the film is also as important to look at. The two prominent women in the film Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and the aforementioned Agatha. Madame D. is presented as helpless, whereas Agatha is in fact presented as a more daring character than anything. She manages to keep the “Boy with Apple” portrait safe throughout and is also apart of the major climactic chase scene within the grounds of the hotel towards the end of the film.
Keep in mind that Anderson takes a more artistic approach to his films. 5 out of his 8 directed films didn’t make their money back in North America). It could be considered that he is able to try new concepts with little reaction from executives. He has a certain freedom to do what he likes with his filmography. Because of this, we get to see unique representations of gender in the majority of his films. In The Grand Budapest Hotel we see both strong and weak male characters, given that the cast is so vast then this is to be expected of the film.
Possibly the strongest male character within the film is that of Gustave H. His character is definitely flawed, however we get a greater understanding of the plot through him. There’s a definite understanding that Gustave is living in the wrong time period. Life has moved on and left him behind yet his morals and ideas haven’t. This in turn becomes both the weakest and strongest part of the character. On the one hand Gustave lives by a strict set of morals. But on the other hand it ends up getting him killed. His mannerisms are not what we expect from him and contrast with the majority of other characters.
He’s very high brow in this respect, conflicting with the other characters of the film. Again the clothing codes are important, the frequent purple being used to represent royalty. We don’t really see Gustave grow and change as a character and that’s very important. If he had done so then it would have been seen as a change of heart. What I believe Wes Anderson is implying through Gustave is that there is always complacency. Most specifically with old ideas in a new society. It’s crafted in a positive light, making Gustave the highlight of a depressing time of life. But at the same time it creates an interesting curve away from the time period and really to what would be considered outdated ideas.
As a whole the representation of gender is effective in showing both the flaws and high points of males. The characters themselves are clearly larger than life, but Anderson has developed a good foundation for his message.