welcome to Mirrora monthly movie column in which I rewatch and then rewatch a movie I’ve already seen under the new (and improved?) review lens of 2021. I’m so glad you’re here.
I remember very well when Marie Antoinette released in theaters 15 years ago. As a young teenager still developing her adult taste, I slipped into it as my peers had done with the works of Tim Burton or Amelie. I made it a part of my personality, plastering my bedroom walls with pages I tore from the lush blanket the stars entered vogue, playing the deluxe double disc soundtrack on repeat, adding the DVD to my small collection. After seeing the movie only once, I declared it probably my favorite, although I also found it a bit boring. In years to come, I’d dress up as the titular queen for Halloween, eagerly repeat my aunt’s assessment that the movie was “really more of a symphonic poem,” and credit myself virgins who committed suicide and lost in translation as Sofia Coppola’s homework. I thought modern music was the coolest thing in the world.
In fact, the second coolest; the purple converse were the coolest. Actually, no, the coolest thing in the world – and by the world, I mean Tumblr – were the behind-the-scenes photos of Dunst and Schwartzman use laptops in a costume. Because Marie Antoinette was both more and less than a movie. It was an atmosphere. Revisiting it this week, I’m more certain than ever that critics who relegated it to a 57% score for Rotten Tomatoes have mostly missed the point. They wanted it to be hard-hitting or moving or scholarly like the adventures that take place in the Bastille or the great thinkers of Paris. But the movie is Versailles.
It’s not exactly a coming-of-age tale, but it follows a young woman’s maturation from sweet, innocent, and naive to self-centered, sensual, and loving. Dunst is charming in the lead role, though she’s nearly ousted from the film by a stellar cast, including Rose Byrne as Bon Vivant, Jamie Dornan as Boy’s Toy, Rip Torn as King of France, Asia Argento as Mistress, Judy Davis as as Marie’s caretaker, Steve Coogan as an ally, Danny Huston as a brother, and Jason Schwartzman giving a powerfully subtle comedic performance as Marie’s unsophisticated husband. Shot on the very grounds of the palace and filled to the brim with colorful costumes and sets, it’s a feast for the eyes that makes no apologies for its decadence, making the world of court so tempting it’s easy to see how a princess shelter could forget the starving peasants outside. The queen is represented here as ni Diana-like the victim, neither the hero of Catherine the Great, nor the villain of Evita-ish. Instead, she’s an artist, and her life is her canvas. She lived too much and too grandly, but oh, she did it well.
It’s not even really an attempt to make history. It’s a celebration of the imagination with the necessary caveat that, yes, heads of state really shouldn’t let their class spend or live wildly. It’s about being young and in love with your life in a golden cage. And also femininity, probably, I guess.
Yes, it’s a bit slow in places. I think it’s intentional. Even a party life can get boring, and we’re drawn into Marie’s boredom to understand why she felt the need to escape to the Petit Trianon. His flaws and sorrows are presented in equal measure and never lingered. We see servants cleaning up his messes after a party and, later, cleaning up the eggs in his playhouse from a farm. When she loses a child, it is communicated simply by an absence in a painting, and the funeral is silent and unsentimental. The film is happier depicting parties, cakes, fashion and all other forms of excess, which is part of why it’s aged so well, I think. There is no smell of patroness story, no particular judgment on sexual mores – or lack thereof – between Marie and the company she keeps. There are few overt messages and certainly no morals. It’s not even really an attempt to make history. It’s a celebration of the imagination with the necessary caveat that, yes, heads of state really shouldn’t let their class spend or live wildly. It’s about being young and in love with your life in a golden cage. And also femininity, probably, I guess.
And yet, in this age of billionaires going to space as the world suffers from a pandemic, I kept looking for some sort of connection, how she predicted or didn’t predict our current era of extreme wealth inequality. . Would I see shades of Ivanka Trump in the heroine, cloistered with her children far from the rioting masses? Not really. The film avoids the parable. Maybe today’s rich kids are as vapid as Mary and the nobility were, content to believe that God himself anointed them rich as shit, but hey, that’s not the impression that I have Succession. In their heyday, Kimye tried it – the opulence, the tacky displays, the unapologetic luxury. But they were always trying so hard, always hustling, always striving. In this tale, Mary’s place at the top of the pyramid is simply a fact, indisputable until, literally, the revolution.
And anyway, the movie isn’t really about wealth; when you own the country, what is money? If everything is decadent, nothing is. In the world of Marie Antoinette, bread and cake are interchangeable, because every meal can be a dessert. And that’s also what the film is: a dessert. Rich, creamy, sumptuous, delicious. Not particularly healthy, but so entertaining. And distraction seems to be what Marie is looking for above all else. Florida