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Essential Journal

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Hotels and the Movies

Films have long relied on hotels as a setting for various reasons. Whether it’s an international man of mystery stopping by for sultry misdemeanours, or a crazed writer with cabin fever plotting the murder of his entire family: hotels are undeniably entrancing as an institution

They are a hub for people all around the world and yet can often feel amongst the loneliest places on earth. You can get lost in their perplexingly identical hallways or find solace in the comfort of room service and all-night security. Whatever the motive: it’s indisputable that some amazing films have used the accommodative establishments to create some truly unforgettable scenes. 

Let’s start by checking in to the Overlook Hotel, the central setting of Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining (1980). The visionary director utilises every sinew of the establishment to enhance the delirium of Jack’s state of mind and his spiralling mayhem. The corridors are long and winding and the only company Jack has are his creepy family and his visions of bartenders and bathtub creatures. As a caretaker of the hotel, it is of course empty, and this aids Jack’s ability to lose his mind in under a week. A location often crammed with people (see the final shot of the ballroom) is made empty and desolate as a trigger to cause extreme isolation and resulting cabin fever. 


This is of course not the only picture to use the backdrop of a hotel to convey a character’s sense of loneliness. Lost in Translation (2003) remains Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece and is an unparalleled look into the intricacies of isolation. The indie-favourite duo of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are both in the same Tokyo-based hotel suffering similar existential crises before they eventually unite for some frivolous antics. The fog of being in a foreign country with no understanding of the language is often made comically frustrating, but mostly adds to the characters’ believed remoteness. Murray towers over the Japanese people inside the hotel elevator as a humorous metaphor of his displacement and Johansson gazes longingly out of her hotel window at the city, with her curled up body seeming tiny in comparison to the vast cityscape beneath her. Coppola captures the feeling of being in a place surrounded by people but still feeling alone, an image made poignant by using the bustling nature of a hotel to contrast the emotions of the characters. 

Like the Lost in Translation duo and The Shining’s Jack, hotels often act as an extension of a character’s mindset. This is achieved in Hotel Artemis whereby The Nurse’s emotions are paralleled by the goings on in the hotel. She hasn’t left the premises in 22 years and Drew Pearce emphasises this insularity by having her relationship with The Artemis appear as symbiotic. When her façade of coolness begins to crumble, so does the physical integrity of the hotel and indeed it’s high-tech security systems. There are several hidden rooms and walkways deep in the hotel’s fabric, much like the repressed secrets and fragilities of Jodie Foster’s character. Similarly, in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), the vibrant and eccentric style of the building is conjoined with that of Ralph Fiennes’ bumbling M. Gustave who runs the establishment in an idiosyncratic manner. When he is exiled from the premises the lavish walls are soon replaced by the black, repressive insignia of the tongue-in-cheek ZZ party. 

Back to Hotel Artemis and how it plays upon the unfamiliarity of hotels. Each room is plastered with a different backdrop, such as Niagara Falls. This points at the uncanny vibe of hotels where they replicate homes but are not quite the real deal. They may lull you into a sense of comfort, but it’s never the same as feeling the cosiness of your own space. This adds to the mystery of the establishments. You never know who is in the room next to you, or indeed what horrors lurk around the corner. Filmmakers use the air of uncertainty to create moments of sheer tension. Think of the aforementioned bathtub lady in The Shining, or the rising pressure of the criminals crammed into Hotel Artemis. More frightening examples usually exist in motels, the ugly cousin of hotels. The Neon Demon (2016) uses this fear, coupled with a delightfully sinister Keanu Reeves, to use the uncertainty to great dramatic effect. Elle Fanning’s Jesse has premonitions of the creepy landlord placing a knife in her mouth before he harasses a resident of the neighbouring room. Another Keanu Reeves starring film that utilises this mystery and fear is John Wick (2014), where the spin-off warranting hotel The Continental has its own ecosystem and rules – much like that of Hotel Artemis. EJ

Words by Tom Williams
Image Credits by Warner Bros