The Grand Budapest Hotel Color Palette Analysis | Wes Anderson

28 Dec 2020

Min Read

As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson always looks at each of his films as if it’s a giant painting. His ability to create hyperreal images through the use of colors is so vivid that has become his unique aesthetic style. In doing so, one of the movies that truly blurs the line between fantasy and reality is his most colorful movie, the Grand Budapest Hotel. The story of the Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in 4 different timelines with their own aspect ratios and color pallets.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Color Analysis

The first and the main timeline is 1932, which is the timeline of M.Gustave, the famous concierge of the Grand Budapest, a marvelous European hotel, and his young lobby boy, Zero. Although the entirety of this timeline isn’t so bright due to the nature of war in that time, the hotel scenes have vibrant hues of red, purple, pink, white, orange, yellow, and brown that gives it a fantastical vibe of beauty and comfort, despite the challenges that they have outside of it.
It looks like the Grand Budapest Hotel is a disguise to hide the cruelty of war for the rich at least.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 1932

The second timeline portrays the timeline of the old Zero Mustafa in a used and old version of the Grand Budapest Hotel and the younger self of an author who later on writes a book about the hotel and the mysterious stories behind it. This part of the film involves lush colors in a very matte and darkish tone, which compliments the story as the young author learns about the hotel and makes observations that point out the age of Grand Budapest in 1968. In this timeline, the outside scenes showcase a low saturated green and the interiors are in matte and mid saturated oranges, a color pallet that shows warmth but also tells us about the apathy about the hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 1968

The next timeline which is a short one during 1985, brings us to the elder-self of the author talking about the true stories behind the book, again in a brown and orange pallet. And the fourth one shows us a later period of time in the author’s graveyard. Where colors are drained out to picture a cold world and a young girl interested in learning about the glorious days of the grand Budapest hotel by the book.

The Elder Author, 1985
The Present Day, Author's Graveyard

Anderson also uses colors to talk about the characters and their position in the story so here, the Antagonists are in dark colors, the bureaucrat government is dressed in grey and the protagonists wear bright colors.
But how do you create a colorful world like that? You might ask. This is how Adam Stockhausen, the production designer of the film who also won an Oscar for that, describes the process behind The Grand Budapest Hotel:

“…we started with all this pink, and I think this would be true of any color—if you use too much of it, you stop seeing it because it’s everywhere and you start taking it for granted. So, we found that we had to add-in yellows and different colors to kind of cut it back so you could see it more.” 

And this is how the color pallet of the film formed. Some believe that the world that Wes Anderson creates is slightly artificial, but within that world, the emotions and feelings are very real. So Anderson’s color pallet helps him tell larger than life stories that evoke our interest in fantasy but holds a real message deep inside it.
The colors of the Grand Budapest Hotel speak to us about a fanciful hotel at the heart of a dark time when war has washed away happy colors from people’s life and taken away the most beloved things they have.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Dark Incident