When the Austrian-born Marie Antoinette is "handed off" at the tender age of 14 to the French aristocracy in an arranged political marriage to Prince Louis Auguste (soon to be King Louis XVI), she's stripped of everything and everyone she holds dear. Repackaged as "fully French" so as not to offend the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of the Versailles court, she weds Louis in a grand ceremony. And then sees very little of him outside of their official appearances.
The two sleep in the same bed, but their marriage is not consummated for seven years, much to the despair of Antoinette's mother and the chagrin of Louis' father. An heir to the French throne is desperately desired, and when an arranged marriage such as this one fails to yield that precious son, then, the people of the land wonder, what was the point after all? When Marie becomes queen and begins to empty the country's royal coffers on personal frivolities, the people stop whispering and wondering, and starting shouting for her head.
Despite her mother's controlling, selfish behavior, Marie respects her counsel and mourns her passing. She also has a strong bond with her brother, who goes the extra mile on her behalf to explain the birds and the bees to her "bumbling" husband in a way that he can understand. Two notes about that conversation: 1) It works, and 2) Beyond a lock-and-key metaphor, its details aren't verbalized onscreen.
Because of the tragic events that end both Antoinette's decadence (and her life), it's hard to avoid thinking about the truth detailed in 1 Timothy 6:10, which reads, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Indeed, this queen loves her things. And they do not pay her back in kind.
Another lesson learned via bad example revolves around Antoinette's hypocritical snobbery. She self-righteously reviles Louis XV's mistress, whom she refers to as a whore, then proceeds to cheat on her own husband when the first opportunity presents itself. The parallel is too obvious to miss.
On a more positive "positive" note, Antoinette finally begins to live up to her true worth when she has children. She retires to the countryside and sinks herself into their nurture and upbringing in a way that her own mother obviously did not.
At Louis XV's deathbed, a priest lets it be known that he cannot give last rites and take the king's confession until his mistress is "put out." A joking comment is made about how long it's been since a courtier went to mass.
A good portion of the plot revolves around Marie and Louis' lack of a love life. Night after night they retire together, she tentatively reaches out for him, and he pushes her away. Then, after his "talk" with her brother, the camera cuts away before we see anything more than him rolling over on top of her.
Such blushing restraint is not the rule of the day, though, when Queen Antoinette beds a count. Naked, she seduces him, covering her breasts with a fan and her groin with only a slightly raised leg. As he joins her, the camera glimpses part of her breast.
Less sexual, but no less naked are several scenes in which Marie is dressed and undressed by ladies-in-waiting. We watch as she stands, fully nude, with her crossed arms covering her chest. (Most often she's seen above the waist from the back and the front; in one semi-dark scene her entire body is seen from the back.)
King Louis XV obviously enjoys the company of his mistress, and he flaunts her before the court—and the camera. The pair are seen flirting, cuddling, kissing, etc. He remarks that a woman's "bosom" is the first thing he looks at. And the film's period gowns reveal quite a bit of them. A comment is made about one noble husband "spending far too much time with the stable boys." At a party, another husband retires early with his wife, bragging about the frequency with which they couple. Indeed, other couples' amorous activities are hinted at throughout, as if to give contrast to Louis and Marie's silence on the subject. A few sly double entendres are bantered about; one of them involves Thomas Jefferson lusting after Antoinette.
It's reported to the king and queen that the Bastille has been stormed. Later, a mob of angry peasants surrounds the palace, intent on destroying it and deposing the queen.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine and champagne flow freely at the queen's frequent parties, gambling get-togethers and balls. The queen and her accompanying ladies appear to be drunk in a few scenes. A pipe containing something other than tobacco is passed around at a late-night party.
Moviemakers won't be happy until they've brought every detail (real and imagined) about every European royal family to the big screen. By now, most monarchs of note have already been done at least a half-dozen times, so it's all about bringing new perspectives to their lives. Or, as is the case with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, to infuse their lives with new music.
You can rest assured that the punk-pop retro-cool backbeats of Aphex Twin, The Radio Dept., Air, Bow Wow Wow and The Strokes were not playing in the background of the real Queen Marie's infamous parties during the late 1700s. Nor were they featured on the soundtrack of the 1938 biopic starring John Barrymore and Norma Shearer. But they are in force here, and one could even say, to good effect. When Gang of Four sings, "The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure/Coercion of the senses/We are not so gullible/Our great expectations/A future for the good/Fornication makes you happy/No escape from society," Antoinette's fantastical foibles somehow pop into clearer focus. There's nothing like a little modern pop music to assign meaning to that which might otherwise not have any.
I write that only half sarcastically. Because if Marie Antoinette the movie has any message to impart at all, it is that life without purpose (and love) is not really life at all. It reinforces that idea by finally showing us glimpses of Antoinette's peaceful mothering years and reminding us of how they contrast with what's so recently transpired. But mostly it illustrates it for us via The Cure and Co., long lingering Sex and the City-esque looks at the colorful fashions of the day and by developing a tedious, obsessive infatuation with Antoinette's frivolous habits.
Her fixation on things (gowns, shoes and, more famously, cake) is emboldened onscreen by an utter lack of the good things in life that most of us take for granted. A mother who unconditionally loves and cares for you. A spouse who lives with and for you. Friends who both challenge, stimulate and support you. Without those basic necessities of life, Antoinette fills the void with gambling, drinking, adultery and eating. She is the queen, she figures, so she may as well have some fun while she's at it.
History tells how that didn't work out for her, of course. The shopping sprees of one socialite queen obviously didn't bring France to its financial knees, and Marie Antoinette may well have been nothing more than an emotionally satisfying scapegoat. But the film's last scene nevertheless shows her wistfully gazing back at the luxuries of her palace home as she rides away to her doom (she's soon to be guillotined). Once again, Gang of Four fills in the gaps by singing, "Remember Lot's wife/Renounce all sin and vice/Dream of the perfect life." It's pop profundity at its zenith. Still, I have a quibble with Coppola's candy-colored dream: She didn't allow us to consider the plight of Lot's wife without making us see just a little too much of her in the process.