One of the most unique things about Gustave is the seemingly feminine care he takes in his own appearance and impression. Not only does he want to look good, however, he also wants to smell good, which is why he wears "l'air de panache." Moustafa tells us in narration that Gustave's scent often lingered in a room long after he had left, and we see guests at the hotel sniffing the air in a room he has recently vacated. The cologne rather succinctly symbolizes many facets of Gustave's identity: his enduring influence on his environment, his interest in the finer things, and his vanity.
Boy with Apple (Symbol)
When Gustave attends the reading of Madame D.'s will, Kovacs bequeaths the countess' priceless painting Boy with Apple to him. It is a simple, but very valuable painting of a young boy with an apple. As a figure, it can be read as symbolizing Gustave himself; the boy represents Gustave's desire to remain youthful, and the apple represents his desires and pleasures, his artistic refinement and his sexual appetite. As an inheritance, it symbolizes the countess' love for Gustave, for indeed it is her most valuable possession, and it is a very covetable object. By giving it to Gustave and not her own family, the Countess has confirmed that Gustave understood her more than her flesh and blood ever could. The painting represents Gustave and the countess' special bond, and their shared pleasures.
Mendl's is the bakery at which Agatha works, a place that provides scrumptious desserts to visitors at the Grand Budapest. The name "Mendl's" and their ornate pastries crop up often throughout the film. At first, they represent the ornate and decadent world of the Grand Budapest, and we see a flour-covered Agatha slaving away over meticulously crafted delicacies. Later, they come to serve a more integral purpose in the plot of the film. When Gustave is in jail, the only way to smuggle in implements with which he can dig a tunnel to escape the prison is by baking them into pastries. Within the scrupulously crafted baked goods lie extremely practical tools that will help Gustave escape. Later still, Agatha and Zero try to escape the clutches of the evil Dmitri, but both end up hanging off a ledge outside the Grand Budapest. When they fall, their fall is miraculously broken by piles of Mendl's boxes in the back of the Mendl's trucks. While the desserts may seem like delicate indulgences, they also come in rather handy in the misadventures of the protagonists.
Romantic Poetry (Motif)
Gustave is an exceedingly romantic man, fanciful and overwrought at turns. This is represented most notably by his preoccupation with reciting and referencing romantic poetry. Throughout the film, he recites poems that express his overflowing feelings about the world. These recitations signal to the viewer that Gustave is a refined man, a Renaissance man, and a man who wants to live poetically. Gustave's love of poetry and influence on Zero is so strong that when Zero falls in love with Agatha, one of his main ways of expressing his feelings is by reciting romantic poetry to her. Romantic poetry crops up as a motif to represent the refinement that Gustave so wants to cultivate in his life and in the world.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Symbol)
The Grand Budapest Hotel is not simply a fine hotel; for Gustave and Zero, it is a symbol of a refined and civilized society, one which upholds the highest standards. In many ways, it represents an old version of Europe itself, with all of its complicated contradictions. It is a place that is refined and decadent, yet that refinement comes from the wealth of empire, which is at the expense of countries like Zero's home. Following the death of the wealthy benefactress Madame D., as the war begins to break out, the idyllic hotel must open its doors to brutish soldiers, and the hotel's standards begin to change. Later, Zero inherits the hotel from Gustave, and tries to maintain some semblance of the old ways, even if it is now a sleepy and starkly populated establishment, with a bumbling and incompetent concierge. The trajectory of the hotel comes to symbolize the trajectory of Europe, and the ways that war can ravage a previously elegant establishment.
The Grand Budapest Hotel Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.