The Grand Budapest Hotel, God’s Not Dead – Movie Reviews

The Grand Budapest HotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel – R
Release Date: Wed 26 Feb 2014

Eagerly awaited in wide release, I ended up screening The Grand Budapest Hotel twice on its opening here in Kansas City, with video discussions from each. Lucky for all of us, it did not disappoint.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is, first and foremost, a farce. There’s a grand scheme of storytelling, art direction and film techniques that have been the director’s trademark for years. There’s a bit of romance, some mild violence and a few untimely deaths, but it’s given all the gravity of discovering Mr. Body once again dead at the start of a game of Clue.

Even the story’s frame is an elaborate, hilariously complicated contraption. We open on a girl reading a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cemetery near a small monument to the Author. This cuts to the Author (Tom Wilkinson) beginning to read from notes the beginnings of the story in 1985 before unceremoniously going back to 1968, where his character (now played by Jude Law) meets F. Murray Abraham playing an elderly version of Zero Mustafa. He also begins to tell his story and we go back in time yet again to 1933 with Ralph Fiennes’s M. Gustave tutoring the younger version of Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori).

Got all that? It doesn’t matter. Every element of the movie clips along like this, with characters fully committed to this zany busy-ness. Fiennes is excellent as the erudite M. Gustave (whose occasional outbursts of expletives always defuses him from being pompous) and Tony Revolori keeps up well without being the stereotypical precocious and precious adolescent at the center of many other Wes Anderson films.

While there are a myriad of actors in small roles and cameos it really fits well into this movie’s structure. Much like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we just need someone else for King Arthur to meet, shout at and eventually become frightened of and run from. So it is for Gustave and Mustafa – running throughout the film towards whichever particular macguffin (a dead widow, a painting – it’s always something.)

I can recommend this to fans of Anderson’s films and farces in general. Each new scene ups the ante on silliness with the artifice of hearing the story seventh-hand only keeping it from coming derailed as a complete fabrication. It’s narrator(s) may be unreliable, but the resulting film is a feast for the eyes and just short of a riot of laughter.

Cal, Gerry and I saw it at a wide-release matinee had a discussion in the car:

Then I saw it again that evening with Nate and Jeremiah:

God's Not DeadGod’s Not Dead – PG
Release Date: Friday 21 Mar 2014

There’s a scene early in the movie where Willie Robertson (from Duck Dynasty) is asked by a smug, atheist journalist if his show’s portrayal of prayer and Jesus might offend some viewers. In a friendly tone he replies that they’re not out to offend, but if people don’t like the show they can change the channel. At this point, a quarter of the audience at my screening shouted “amen.” At a theater screen. To the guy from Duck Dynasty. I wish that were a joke I wrote, but it really happened.

This movie gives its message loud and clear in the trailer – a college boy named Josh is bullied by his philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo) to renounce his faith by signing a paper that says “God is dead.” When he refuses, he is forced to prove the opposite in three 20-minute lectures at his next three classes. What the trailer leaves out is just how mean-spirited the proceedings are, with Sorbo’s Professor Raddison quickly devolving into a mustache-twirling villain and everyone in Josh’s life, including his girlfriend shutting him out of their life for choosing to stand up for his religious beliefs. Only his pastor supports him – albeit barely – by recommending some biblical quotes to strengthen his resolve.

What I imagined would become a sort of straw-man debate within the movie to provide Christians with some ammunition in defending their faith against non-believers, scientists and so forth never really gets its teeth. Presenting evidence of God rather than the virtues of faith, community and religious morality can’t answer the central question of whether or not God exists. The movie realizes this and suddenly reveals that Professor Raddison isn’t truly an atheist but an anti-theist who actively hates God vs. not believing in him. This wins the debate for Josh since God has to exist in order for the professor to hate him.

This is by far the most alarming of the film’s messages, that atheists are closet anti-theists whose relationship to God has been broken based on not getting what they want out of it. It’s something like saying you don’t believe in Santa because he didn’t bring you a pony, except instead of just being naive and condescending, this is giving atheists a psychological diagnosis of “broken” Christians. The movie also posits the “war on Christmas” style misinformation that there is an active war on Christians in America – with everyone from college professors to journalists just looking to make them look stupid and take away God.

And yes, I mean Christian here. The movie “converts” a abusively portrayed Muslim girl to Christianity as well as an international student from China. (Because Communism conversion!) The end of the movie encourages the audience to text “God’s Not Dead” to all the contacts on their cell phone. I suppose text spam shows God you’re willing to use your iPhone to show your support?

There’s no debate here. There is a trainwreck of a story meant to embolden, bolster and validate a narrow group of Christian Americans against the perceived threat of atheism, which the movie makes tantamount to anti-theism. If you love Duck Dynasty and seeing nonbelievers get their comeuppance, this movie may be mildly entertaining with a group of like-minded viewers. Everyone else should respect this movie’s right to make a few dollars preaching to the converted and fade into the obscurity it deserves.

Nate and I saw it opening night and had a discussion in the car:


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