It’s been two years since Wes Anderson’s last film, and we’ve been having serious whimsy withdrawal. The director’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, invites audiences to a fictional spa town, the Republic of Zubrowka. In typical Anderson fashion, the filmmaker has decked out the European hotel, leaving no detail unturned:
Even the smallest concrete yet imaginary element of Grand Budapest‘s main setting… was fanatically created by Anderson and company, down to its newspaper of record, the Trans-Alpine Yodel, and its pastry of choice, the mouthwatering Courtesan au chocolat, always packaged in the unmistakable pink boxes from Mendl’s Patisserie.
Anderon’s immersive environs remind us of other fictional film locales that transport us to fascinating worlds of wonder and mystery. Here are ten cities, big and small, that stem from the wild imaginations of their creators.
Stepford, Connecticut: where the women are impossibly perfect, docile, and spend their days fawning over their husbands with frightening devotion. The mindless cult of servility in Bryan Forbes’ remake of Ira Levin’s 1972 novel is a satirical play on the arrogant excesses of the powerful, rich, white populace found in upper class communities across America.
Born in Portland, Maine, author Stephen King has spent his career creating a fascinating fictional topography based on his home state. Each town (Castle Rock and Derry included) is essential in contributing to the ominous mood of King’s stories. One of the unnerving gothic locales with small-town secrets became a feeding ground for vampires. The undead creatures of Salem’s Lot personify the paranoia, mistrust, and ignorance that can tear humanity apart.
The darkly strange and imaginative world of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet in The City of Lost Children reveals a grotesque, bizarre cast of characters who kidnap children and steal their dreams. Caro and Jeunet’s fantasy realm is a fairy tale turned on its head, where the murky waters and phantasmagoric architecture intoxicates as much as it looms menacingly.
Director Fritz Lang conceived of the German expressionist epic Metropolis after seeing the skyscrapers of New York City for the first time in 1924.
I thought that it was the cross-roads of multiple and confused human forces, blinded and knocking into one another, in an irresistible desire for exploitation, and living in perpetual anxiety. I spent an entire day walking the streets. The buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize. At night, the city did not simply give the impression of living: it lived as illusions live. I knew I should make a film of all these impressions.
At once futuristic, Art Deco, and biblical, the megalopolis dwarfs its residents, submerging them deep into the underground — prisoners akin to those in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Where else can you commune with a creepy, conjoined twin humanoid that has visions of the future? Mars’ red-light district, Venusville, has it all: three-breasted hookers, suffocating pollution, and a tyrannical governor. But hey, we hear the neon cocktails at the Last Resort bar will cure what ails you. This mutant city is a fun homage to author Philip K. Dick, whose short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” inspired the 1990 film.
Just off the coast of Scotland, the neo-pagan community of Summerisle feels like a lost paradise where sex and free-spirited living seduce island visitors. Most people never leave — but not for reasons of pleasure. The Wicker Man is a subversive and skeptical fable that warns of the thrall (and horror) of dogmatism.
A young woman searches for her missing father in a strange, seaside locale where the residents worship the blood moon and spew Lovecraftian occult doom. Point Dune appears to be a lost relic from the Cold War era — a broken, forgotten setting reflecting the hysterical breakdown of the film’s protagonist.
Welcome to Twin Peaks. The companion film to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal television series returns to the town full of secrets and shows us the last week of the life of murdered high school homecoming queen Laura Palmer. Lynch has always explored the seedy, subterranean murk of suburban/domestic life in his films, but the Lynchian mythology is at its darkest where the owls are not what they seem.
Jean-Luc Godard leads us to a city on a distant Orwellian planet where a United States secret agent is sent to free the city’s residents from its ruthless ruler. A dark, but humorous pastiche of American noir, science fiction tropes, and pop art, Godard transformed the city of Paris into a dystopian metropolis under the cover of night (when much of the film takes place), taking advantage of the city’s modernist architecture to set the mood.
Toontown isn’t bad. It’s just drawn that way. The anthropomorphic Seussian city is a fitting setting for the comical neo-noir, referencing the gritty underbelly of megacities like Hollywood and New York present in pulpy tales of yesteryear.