As Abe Simpson says, one tiny change makes all the difference

After we had decided to see The Grand Budapest Hotel after dinner at Carrabba’s I was asked, “Why don’t you seem more excited?” I know, I know, Wes Anderson. Life Aquatic and all that. I said, “With that many people in a movie, doesn’t it seem like it doesn’t give most of them time to be any good?”

I was – mostly – right. Jeff Goldblum cannot be tamed and even missing fingers he was one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. Voldemort also played a convincing Ralph Finnes playing a concierge.

Seeing this movie, however, stirred up quite a conversation, one that lasted past the walk to the movie theater lobby, past the drive home, and lasted about half an hour after that.

“It was pretty though. Some of the shots were truly brilliant.” I grew up in a family that actively discussed cinematography after emerging from a movie theater.

“Yeah, but who makes Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe seem …”

“Hollow?” I said.

“Yes, exactly!”

“I just would rather watch Four Rooms.” Granted, although I said this particular sentence, it was a group sentiment.

Now, this is no disrespect to Wes Anderson or Wes Anderson fans. And full disclosure: I truly enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies, and can tell that the cinematics in The Grand Budapest Hotel are exciting and visually stunning in a way that Four Rooms doesn’t necessarily achieve. But hey, it was ’95, so I give it a pass. (Tarantino had quite a hand in Four Rooms, just to add the connective tissue here.) But after this chat, and another discussion about it over tandoori chicken and chana masala the next day, a singular thought arose: one tiny change makes all the difference.

Take Four Rooms and The Grand Budapest Hotel: Interwoven stories surrounding the exploits of a concierge at a hotel that turned from very popular to less-than-popular over its time. Even the concierges both had purple suits. But the string that held the movies together, Tim Roth’s concierge versus Ralph Finnes concierge, were just slightly different, and the focus in Four Rooms stayed, well in Four Rooms, whereas The Grand Budapest Hotel spent only a third to a half of the movie inside the actual hotel. And this slight change made Four Rooms easier to follow and more fun to watch, and The Grand Budapest Hotel … full of beautiful visuals and Anderson-esque featurettes and Jeff Goldblum jokes (and by this I mean Jeff Goldblum being effervescently funny, not people making jokes about the amazing Jeff Goldblum … have I mentioned I like Jeff Goldblum?) But did it convert me into a Wes Anderson fan? Maybe not. (Good thing I like quirky books and craft beer, otherwise I’d lose all cred with the hipster-indie crowd with that last statement. Maybe I need to finish The Life Aquatic. Or watch Moonrise Kingdom. Or have a proper introduction to Anderson to … “get it.”)

A conversation expanded to two other movies: Identity and Shutter Island, which take the theory of amazingly terror-filled events trapped in the psychoses of a mind, and let you know the wool has been pulled over your eyes at two different times (about two-thirds through the movie versus right at the end respectively) and that made one much more effective than the other to a friend of mine. “You figure out this is all fake and then you think, ‘Why do I care about that bald guy? I don’t even care that much about John Cusack at that point. The suspense is gone.’” Valid point, even though I still like Identity, and took slight offense to his protestations as I recommended him the movie and said it was “totally awesome.” (Spoiler alert: He absolutely did not agree.)

But here again, one tiny change makes all the difference.

It’s like how they always say in time travel fiction to not mess with the past because killing a mosquito in the pre-historic age can change everything about the present. (My most vivid memory of this is some version of this sentiment said by Abe Simpson to Homer in Treehouse of Horror V (a great The Simpsons episode that really holds up if you haven’t watched it in a while.))


I expanded this thought to my own life, and about the tiny things and how they made all the difference.

I went to the University of Arizona rather than University of Southern California, which I really wanted to go to at 16, but would have been paying for until I was 46; I stayed in Tucson post-graduation and took a job I never thought I’d be in, which wasn’t what I thought I’d do even six months before that but taught me more than a different job or a year in a misguided grad program would have; I went to visit a friend in Phoenix in June of last year, after I applied for and didn’t get a gig in San Francisco, and one of the greatest things to happen to the last 10 months of my life happened because I didn’t get a job I thought would be perfect.

What if I went to USC for school? What if I had moved to Lake Tahoe, California, or Richmond, Virginia, or Laughlin, Nevada, for the jobs I “should” have taken? What if I had gone to Phoenix a different weekend, or had gotten Jimmy John’s delivered rather than walked into the shop on Saturday?

From the outside, some of these choices seem innocuous, or maybe even appear incongruous and hollow. But for me, they made all the difference.

So I guess what I am saying is, The Grand Budapest Hotel is my USC. It’s amazing and distant, something I want to like and seemed for me, but is also kind of OK if it’s not. It’s my tiny preference, my choice, my change, change, and it makes all the difference.