In Moonrise Kingdom, writer-director Wes Anderson killed off a dog, but mercifully let the young heroine’s kitten survive to cathood. Will he be equally indulgent towards Jeff Goldblum’s Persian cat in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a baroque but ultimately poignant yarn about Gustave H, the legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) at a grand hotel in the East European republic of Zubrowka?
“Every now and then it’s nice to bring some animals into the equation, I guess,” Anderson told Linda Barnard of The Star. “I don’t own a cat but I don’t have any negative feelings.”
Deputy Kovacs (Goldblum) is the official representative of the hotel’s mysterious owner. We first see him climbing out of a taxi with his cat, which he hands to the concierge, who immediately hands it to his lobby boy. For those who haven’t yet seen the film, there are BIG SPOILERS – in the form of text and pictures – after the next screengrab.
The cat comes to a sad end, alas. The incorruptible Kovacs is also executor of the estate of the late Madame D, and insists on performing his duties according to the letter of the law (she has left a valuable painting to Gustave H), much to the fury of her son Dimitri.
To illustrate his employer’s displeasure, Dimitri’s sinister black leather-clad henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) throws Kovacs’ cat out of the window. The disbelieving lawyer looks out and sees the corpse of his beloved pet splatted on the ground, with a passer-by (who presumably only just missed being hit on the head with it) looking back up at the window. It’s a typically Anderson-esque symmetrical composition. Even the animal’s corpse is symmetrical.
In real life, of course, the cat might well have landed on its feet – I’ve heard more than one story about cats surviving multi-storey falls from high windows or balconies with barely a bitten tongue. But perhaps Kovacs’ cat is so pampered (we only ever see it being held by people, never acting of its own volition) it has lost that particular survival instinct.
In truth, the image of the dead Persian is so distant and stylised that it’s hard to get too upset about it, but the incident does effectively show Jopling’s ruthlessness, which is important for the next sequence. At the end of the working day, Kovacs exchanges a cloakroom ticket for a small bloodstained sack containing the cat’s cadaver, but when he notices Jopling following his tram on a motorbike, he gets off at the next stop in a panic, dumps the sack distractedly in the nearest rubbish bin, and seeks refuge in a museum.
To find out what happens next, you’ll have to see the film. But the cat has performed its function as CATRIFICE and established Jopling as a horrible person who will stop at nothing. It’s also good for a wicked visual gag, Anderson’s favourite kind – a written one.