The movies chosen for this analysis are quite dissimilar stories taking place in different countries and periods of time. At the first sight, they develop the themes that may hardly bear any resemblance. Nevertheless, if the viewer analyzes the topics, in general, it will be easy to catch a definite likeness. Both movies address some power relationships and show the characters pursuing their objects. Since the stories cover different time periods, their visual styles and staging are not alike, and so is the musical arrangement.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a narration about Gustave, a reputable concierge at the same name hotel, and Zero Moustafa, his follower and lobby boy. The story takes place between the First and Second World Wars in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Whatever happens in his life, Gustave never loses his sparkling sense of humor and stays markedly polite with everybody claiming that kindness can find its way to every heart. Even in the criminal internment camp, Gustave treats other prisoners with the excruciating politeness and shares with them the sweets brought by Zero. His moral courage and kindness make the focal point of the movie and, together with his popularity among prosperous women, help him work his way up from a concierge to the owner of the Grand Budapest hotel.
The second film, Whiplash depicts present-day New York. The storyline features the ambitious student of the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory named Andrew, who intends to become a far-famed drummer. He sacrifices the relationships with his girlfriend stating that she will deflect him from his purpose, and spends all his leisure time practicing. Finally, Andrew grabs his last chance and proves his talent and vocation.
While comparing the themes of the two movies, the viewer catches a certain likeness between Gustave and Andrew. Though they face entirely different challenges, they both stay strong in the adversity and keep defending their aims. However, Gustave’s targets are rather transient, like stealing the painting or jail delivery, so he drifts through his life. On the contrary, Andrew has a defined goal and sticks at nothing.
Since the storylines of the movies feature different places and periods, the visual styles bear no resemblance. The scenery of The Grand Budapest Hotel reflects the atmosphere of pre- and post-war Europe. Old-fashioned clothing and furniture, as well as old trains and mountain lifts, are presented to the viewer. Though the story covers quite a long lapse of time between the First and Second World Wars, the audience observes a tardy flight of time in the movie. The musical arrangement is soft and non-intrusive.
In Whiplash, everything is governed by the drum rhythm. The rush of events and quick change of scenes highly support the theme of the movie. These rapid events not only create the proper mood of the audience but also represent the atmosphere of the campus life in present-day New York. The high-speed course of life in the metropolitan city leaves no place for the debonairness pictured in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Instead of the refined turn of phrases chosen by Gustave, from Fletcher, the audience hears lots of swear words addressed to Andrew and other students. The musical arrangement of Whiplash is plentiful and dramatic.
As it was already mentioned above, the visual styles of the movies differ pretty much. Three examples from each one demonstrate how the mise-en-scene supports the filmmakers’ ideas and influences the audience.
The first scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel is the closing of the frontier. Gustave and Zero are sitting in the carriage as the train suddenly stops and the soldiers come in. Every detail of the setting and clothing: the furniture and the window curtains in the train carriage, the hotel workers’ and soldiers’ costumes reflects the atmosphere of the old pre-war days. The lighting is dimmed for describing the interior of a pre-war train and setting the mood for a heart talk between Gustave and Zero before the soldiers’ coming. This scene lets the audience feel the air of the old days and proves Gustave’s unspoken message, which is one of the movie’s focal points, that a good deed is never lost.
The same idea runs like a golden thread through the scene in the criminal internment camp as Gustave hands around the porridge. The setting and staging of this mise-en-scene actualize the tense atmosphere in the camp. The clothing of the prisoners is wrinkled and dirty, and the make-up of the criminal boss with a scar under his eyes makes him look brutal. Gustave’s exaggerated courtesy creates such a contrast to the furnishing of the jail ward and the prisoners’ fierce glares, but it saves the situation again. Like a previous one, this mise-en-scene develops the theme of the film and reveals the keynote message to the audience.
Gustave’s break out of the internment camp serves as one more dramatic example of how a single scene can contribute the movie’s message to the audience. The viewer sees the prisoners stepping out in a feeble light. This low-level lighting and still watches of the night emphasize the cloak of secrecy, which creates a proper mood in the viewer. Many details of the setting, such as the thick window grates, narrow trap-doors, and a very long rope-ladder, reflect the atmosphere of danger. The make-up makes the prison breakers’ faces look dirty as they shall be after such an adventure. The staging lets the audience witness the jail delivery.
In the examples mentioned above, the same idea is passed by means of different mise-en-scenes. The moviemaker develops the dominant theme implicitly stating that there is a place for kindness under any circumstances. Moreover, it is an ability to admit one’s mistakes (as in the dialog between Gustave and Zero after the jailbreak) that brings people together making them friends for life.
The mise-en-scene in Whiplash supports the theme and the message of the movie, as well. First, the scene when Andrew holds a rehearsal alone after the first try-out in Fletcher’s band is a perfect example. In the beginning, Andrew’s pale face and dark under-eye circles show his fatigue, and so does a phone call he has no desire to answer. Nevertheless, a sudden change of the setting and a high-energy musical arrangement let the viewer feel Andrew’s determination. He keeps playing the drum faster and faster in spite of the pain and stops only when the blood covers his drum. This scene makes it obvious that he will fight to the end, and so he does.
On the day of the Dunellen competition, misfortune follows Andrew at every turn. The fast change of settings and the rushing speed counter of his car let the viewer feel the tension of the day. Andrew’s costume getting wrinkled and covered with blood creates the same effect. Here, the moviemaker shows the audience Andrew’s strength of mind and willingness to make sacrifices. Never give up is the moviemaker’s message to the viewer.
The last scene of the movie shows an unexpected turn of events. At first, the viewer can see the setting of the concert hall rendering the atmosphere of solemnity and tension at the same time. The costumes contribute to the gravity of the day, as well. Just like in the previous scene, a quick succession of events creates a tense atmosphere and grabs the viewer’s attention. The high-speed drum musical arrangement intensifies the feeling of this strenuous day. Andrew’s face and his drums are covered with the heat-drops, but he keeps playing beyond the expected. The open ending of the movie hardly needs an explanation.
While comparing these movies, in general, the viewer comes to the conclusion that their messages to the audience partially coincide. This common idea is to hold on and keep the flag flying. Whatever happens, one shall use a saving sense of humor (The Grand Budapest Hotel), treat other people in a kind way, and fight to the end (Whiplash). The setting, staging, lighting and musical arrangement of each movie highly support its theme, and every scene reveals the moviemaker’s message to the audience. Both movies are rich in the breathtaking moments and great attention grabbers in their setting and staging.
If the viewer thinks over the movie director’s conception in each case, lots of questions may arise. For example, whether it is possible to stay benevolent and treat other people with kindness under any circumstances. Especially nowadays, when Gustave’s exaggerated courtesy, his sophisticated speeches will look and sound rather old-fashioned. One more disputable question concerns the instructor’s right to drive the students mad in order to find a genius. On the other hand, the need to sacrifice one’s health, peace of mind, and relations with the nearest people for the sake of the ambitious goal leaves the audience asking questions, as well. While being different in their themes and visual styles, both movies provide much food for the viewer’s thought and leave a pleasant aftertaste. As the moviemakers deliver no sermon in their thought-provoking creations, the solutions of the questions mentioned above, as well as of many others, are up to the viewer.