Who is Stefan Zweig and How Was He an Inspiration on “The Grand Budapest Hotel”?


At the end of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel there’s a credit that reads “Inspired by the Writings of Stefan Zweig.”

A globally popular writer in his day, Zweig was an exile, fleeing his homeland, Austria, after Hitler took power. He lived for his remaining years in England, America and finally Brazil, where he commited suicide in 1942.

Wes Anderson was introduced to Zweig’s work only six or seven years before The Grand Budapest Hotel, when he stumbled upon his novel, Beware of Pity. Soon after, Anderson pored through all of his books, as well as others that dealt with war-torn years of 20th century Europe, and it wasn’t long before Anderson was channeling his work into a script.

Structurally, The Grand Budapest Hotel is similar to Zweig’s stories, “nesting stories within stories and confessional revelations of deep secrets within secrets.” We see this at the very beginning, when we’re first introduced to a deceased writer by a young admirer visiting his grave. Suddenly, we’re thrust into the past, with the author (played by Tom Wikinson) alive and well and directly addressing the audience. We then jump even further into the past as the author recounts his trip to the Grand Budapest Hotel - there, he meets a mysterious man who launches into his own story, and once more we’re driven further into history, guided by a new storyteller. As Anderson described it to the Telegraph, ”[it’s] such an effective way to set the stage, to set a mood. It creates this kind of a ‘gather around’ feeling.”

Anderson has also identified Beware of Pity and The Post Office Girl as direct sources for some of the film’s material, but the film is particularly reminiscent of Zweig’s autobiography The World of Yesterday, which was written as the Nazis rose to power. In an interview with NPR, biographer George Prochnik aruged that it was critical “to realize how deeply [Zweig] identified himself with Europe. Zweig’s overwhelming objective was the creation, preservation and proclamation of the Europe that was already inside him. When Zweig began to feel that the Europe that he had known was gone for good, he lost a lot of his motivation to keep going ...This Europe that was so invested in aesthetics, in beauty, in civilized tolerance was very much gone by the time of his suicide. But he knew that, in letting that dream go, he was going to be also relinquishing his hold on the will to live.” This melancholy sense of nostalgia, in what was lost in Vienna after the end of World War I, is what The Grand Budapest Hotel seems all about.

Zweig himself would inform several characters in the film, including Zero Moustafa (played by Tony Revolori and F. Murray Abraham) who is also an exile, forced out of his country under similar circumstances. But Anderson more or less translates his impressions of Zweig the writer and Zweig in real life into two separate figures: the “author” (played by Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law) and M. Gustave (played by Ralph Fiennes). As he told Prochnik, “One thing that struck me, after I had read a few of Zweig’s books, is that what I began to learn about him personally was quite different from what I felt I understood about him from his voice as a writer. So much of his work is written from the point of view of someone who’s quite innocent and is entering into kind of darker territories, and I always felt that Zweig himself was a more reserved person who was exploring things in his work that he was drawn to but that weren’t his own experiences. In fact, the truth seems to be completely the opposite. He seems to be somebody who more or less tried everything along the way.”