Color Theory: Why That Blue Scene Makes You Feel Blue

The most identifiable trait of Cinematography is the color. Sure there are tracking shots (yes, we will get to that), styled lenses and intentional lighting tricks to convey a message for the viewer of a film. However, the most influential aspect proves to be the colors used consistently throughout a movie, which make some great ones stand out on their own.

A fantastic example of almost perfect color theory is used in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Grand Budapest Hotel was received by wide critical acclaim of 2014 and was directed by Wes Anderson, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. The movie is so wildly intricate and funny that it can be hard to pinpoint on how exactly to describe. The Grand Budapest begins as a story being read, within a story being told. This story centralizes around an excluded hotel of a fictional European country in the 1930’s. The hotel is ran by a quirky Concierge and his protege Lobby Boy who find themselves in complicated situation involving a murdered heiress, a famous painting and a crazed family.

Wes Anderson is noted for his attention to detail, retro aesthetic and symmetrical frames. The Grand Budapest created another bullet point of memorable trademarks by incorporating a breathtaking use of hues. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman changed the game with his vision for TGBH by creating another world for the movie by just the use of color, which is a powerful influence on moviegoers. The Grand Budapest is littered with soft pinks, hot pinks, peachy pinks, a dash of baby blue, some fire engine red, and even some gold; This movie is meant to bring you to a time of decadence in the snowy mountains to a grand resort where the elite get to splurge on Mendel’s Chocolate’s and smoke cigars in the lobby.

In order to break the down the color theory behind the film, here are a few memorable shots of the main color scheme:

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Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman Image provided by
Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman
Images provided by: Evan Richards

**Side note: The film’s frame is shot at a small aspect ratio designed to give the idea of a story within a story, within another story; meaning it is meant to be shot in square screen and not widescreen. This enables the viewer to literally be transported in time, we will discuss this in a post about aspect ratio in camera technique. **

The use of these lush pinks and vibrant reds helps give the film an overall dream-like quality with the intention of proving The Grand Budapest to be a fantasy world. These extravagant getaway resorts hardly resonate with us today since we are so accustomed to our Hilton Inn’s and occasional glitzy carbon copy Vegas Resorts, while The Grand Budapest stands alone as a monument to gawk at. Robert Yeoman creates a child-like experience where the movie looks so delicious and magical that the viewer feels happy and excited to experience what Zero experiences throughout his crazy ride with Gustave. The color pink is usually associated with a feeling of femininity and romance, The Grand Budapest Hotel is littered with romance in the air and who doesn’t love a resort with some classic novel affairs? Another color that provokes romance is red; red is all about passion, power and warnings. The impressive long runners in the film are a stark red which are usually the central focus of the frame while the Zero or Gustave are running up and down it in a panic when there is mischief or danger among them.


Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman Image provided by:
Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman
Image provided by: Evan Richards

Didn’t I say this movie was romantic as hell? The chemistry between Agatha and Zero is almost too much to bear because of the light pinks, glowy golds and soft reds whenever the camera focuses on Agatha alone. The first image lets the audience view Agatha the way Zero does, feminine, ethereal and present. The second image is the moment Agatha and Zero realize they are in a mess but are completely devoted to one another, surrounded by even more pink and the baby blue.

Next is another critical darling, Shame. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring my current favorite actor, Michael Fassbender. Shame explores the day to day life and unhealthy habits of a modern sex addict. The film portrays a seemingly put-together guy with a great career and a stylish apartment, only to find out the main character will go to any lengths to fulfill his desire for sex.

This movie is sad as hell but I love it. There is so much depth and nuance to Brandon and his illness that the color scheme guides the audience to relate and understand him rather than judge him. Steve McQueen has a knack for bringing a lot of heavy emotions out of viewers in able to help them identify their own issues and shames, in this movie he picks the perfect cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt to bring these issues to light. The overall mood of the film consists of dark blues, foggy grays and other dulled hues in able to bring you to Brandon’s gloomy world.

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Cinematography by: Sean Bobbitt Images provided by:
Cinematography by: Sean Bobbitt
Images provided by: Film Grab

Brandon is clearly grief stricken by his dependency on sex and unfulfilled by his desires. These shots of him are a common theme throughout the film, depicting him alone and unable to form a genuine connection with anyone due to his unwillingness to change. The dreary colors of the film are consistent throughout and create a sad tone with the audience in relation to Brandon’s depression. One of the final shots of the film are of Brandon overlooking his apartment view of the ocean bay during a sunset. The sunset is colorful and vibrant, showing the most optimistic cinematography lighting of the movie yet. Sean Bobbitt creates an omniscient darkness of Brandon’s outlined body, further proving that Brandon will never change and will forever be stuck in his dark obsession and always watch the light from a distance.

Cinematography by: Sean Bobbitt Image provided by:
Cinematography by: Sean Bobbitt
Image provided by: Film Grab

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