'Life Destroys, Art Preserves': Inside the Hilariously Sad World of 'Grand Budapest'
There is nothing quite like the universe within a Wes Anderson film. It's colorful, alive, comedic, funny, and textured -- but it's also incredibly tragic, melancholic, and impermanent.
This is the topic Matt Zoller Seitz breaks down in his 8th installment of his Wes Anderson Collection series. (You can watch the first 7 here.) In the video below, Seitz discusses Anderson's Oscar-winning film The Grand Budapest Hotel, and how the director uses humor to punctuate tragedy and vice versa. Check it out below:
The balance between tragedy and comedy is something that Aristotle talked about a lot in Poetics, and plenty of film theorist and other theologians, like Freud, Bakhtin, and Hobbes, have taken a crack at explaining why things are funny -- or tragic -- or both. Digging into these theories would require much more than can be offered in this single post, but suffice it to say that comedy can't really exists without tragedy, and tragedy can't really exist without comedy.
This negative/positive concept is one of the many things that Anderson does well. He sets up characters like Margot from The Royal Tenenbaums, to make us laugh at her blasé, black-eyelined zombie stare, but subsequently tears our hearts out when she admits that she's in love with a man she can't be with. In fact, it's not Margot's funny moments that make us like her, it's her vulnerability at the very end of the film, and without those funny, snarky moments, her surrender wouldn't mean as much.
The dance between making a story a tragedy or a comedy is pretty thin -- the downfall or rise of a protagonist is the distinguishing marker. But with Anderson, his most beloved characters rise and fall multiple times throughout their films, creating, strangely, sobering truths to a fantastical world.
Sometimes these characters get the girl. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they just fade into obscurity, their glorious stories spoken only by a strange man sitting in a once famous, now faded, hotel lobby. And it's truly tragic -- or funny, because we laughed with them -- or shared in their pain.