The Trouble With Blogging

Friday, February 2, 2007


Todo Sobre Marie Antoinette

Perhaps it's the fact that I'd much rather watch a spiderless Mary Jane Watson having an existential journey in a statical diegesis, than say I dunno... the groundhog day reporter...

I had braved enough of Lost In Translation to able to fend for myself when confronted with it at cocktail parties (if I ever happen to go to one). Once Democracy gives way to Darwinism, yours truly would be the one stranded on losers' island commenting on Coppola's magical use of tempo. What I'd not admit to is being overcome by sleep three separate times at the karaoke scene, and not knowing what happens in the end. Yet, somehow I don't think think I needed to see the end of the film to know that closing scenes wouldn't be on par with the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan; The gist was had.

To be fair, Marie Antoinette wasn't really the storming of Normandy Beach either. It was Sofia's karaoke scene rendition of the French revolution, the depiction of life's flashiest and loudest choruses remixed into ambient background chatter, the angry mob outside the Palace of Versailles singing Roxy Music's "More Than This," and our female protagonist watching on in reverence. This auteur seems to be telling the same tale of a distinct brand of gendered alienation all over again, much in the way Pedro Almodóvar does, except that her characters find themselves grounded in their reality, while Almodóvar's women are always coming back from a successful physical escape to conquer their emotional entrapment. Sofia spares us a literal transit scene via train or horseless carriage, and instead keeps feeding us the same filmic depiction of a catatonic young girl going through that emotional trek, without having to break any of those impossible to get hair and nail appointments to cris-cross the country.

The Franco-Japanese sceneries allow for a very compelling look at American alienation and late modernity. And thank god they didn't try to make the dialogue more legitimate sounding with British accents to make up for the lack of spoken French; The King and Queen of France speak American English. In another interesting aesthetic choice, contemporary American pop songs go back to back with classical standards, divorcing your ears from your eyes. With the same finesse, Marie Antoinette and Louis are alienated from that which they supposedly rule: their persons, their palace, and later their kingdom. In fact, to varying degrees of overtness, everyone in Marie Antoinette was completely alienated from their own reality, resorting to defining themselves through their choices of compensations for the real thing. In other words, it is not IF they keep up with the Joneses it's HOW THEY LOOK while they do it.

In her younger years, the protagonista is seen increasingly binging on food and fashion. The only outlet this proto-American has is to increase her consumption with her dysfunction. As she ages, so do her tastes from adolescent to the more refined, but she never fully escapes that cycle of consumption in response to alienation. As Queen of France, she grows an appreciation for being within nature, but it comes with her excessive purchases towards her landscaping. Each shot of Marie Antoinette lying out in the grass or picking flowers is conspicuously paired with a purchase order. In one scene, where she is ordering oak trees be planted along a path, she wants that instant gratification from nature as she did with her fashion and dessert purchases. She can't even accept the idea of letting the trees grow, until she is notified her monthly allowance has already been exhausted. When picking flowers in a later scene, one can't help but notice the gardener in the area, who was employed to plant those very same flowers, probably in a very specific arrangement. There are also several identical scenes, where Marie Antoinette is lying out in the grass and in her bed merely moving around and existing within herself, further bridging the "natural" world with the completely handcrafted palatial interior.

At the height of her consumption, the queen becomes a fan of games of chance. Her heavy gambling gives the feeling of being the master of one's own destiny in contrast to such a heavily scripted lifestyle. If you lose, you feel you actually won. If you win, well, then you just have that much more with which to keep on trying to win/lose.

Nobody is free from this vicious cycle that permeates every aspect of their society. They are all without a language that can truly express their loneliness and desperation, and must use the close approximation of social ritual in its place, which in turn only further perpetuates the cycle. Everyone from the members of the angry mob outside the palace to the king are left with no way out of their social roles in life. The closest any of them can come to interacting with anyone else is to practice a ritual on the projected image of another, seen perfectly in the actions of the mob. They are confronted with their supposedly unforgivably excessive queen bowing down to them. The action before them went against any of the prescribed notions they had about their rulers, so for a brief second they are subdued and most likely bewildered, only to have one random voice reignite the social force that brought them there. They were not there to solve their everyday problems, or seek justice, they were there because this would be their social outlet for the same hollowness in the queen. She fed it when her abuse of wealth, and the people of France fed it with their equally vacuous reign of terror, neither acts bringing any meaningful change for its subject.

Now I know it's sorta hard to bounce back from peoples' heads being chopped off and children being murdered because they're rightful heirs to a throne, but trust me it's not all that bad. While in no way, shape, or form does the relationship between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI get depicted as a deep connection, they do share moments with each other that could only take place through their common state of complete and utter alienation from their respective positions in life. The best example I found to be the one in the theater when Marie Antoinette is completely consumed by the performance and ignores her manners (rituals) for the situation, allowing the couple to share a moment of unscripted, unwitnessed affection for each other in their glances. Their entire relationship consisted of their shared alienation.

Perhaps, you're saying, "okay. they glanced at each other. so what?" I'll tell you so what. At the final scenes, with the lives in jeopardy of those who stayed behind in Versailles, Marie Antoinette repeatedly opts to remain by her husband's side. This echoes back to the connection of the two main characters in Lost in Translation; They both connect because the realization that the other is feeling completely alone, too. Maybe that's as good as it gets and what we have here is our modern day Romeo and Juliet.

Better living through ascetics. To experience life in a fulfilling way, deny yourself life's "pleasures." And when you do need release don't think so hard about it. Realize you're speaking/acting in a contradiction that will only bring you less resolve, but in and of itself may be enough... as long as you do it consciously and actively, instead of in blind faith in something actually getting genuinely better on the horizon. That is all Marie Antoinette can hope for at the end of the film: acknowledgment of her ultimately painful existence and leaving the door open for everyone else to watch in her great and absolutely hopeless refusal of her fate. One can't help but think of this ending as a reference to Camus' The Outsider where the protagonist is taking solace in his pending public execution, because only then will he not feel alienated from everyone.

... So now you see why I'm not a grand slam at dinner parties?

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Feb 2, 2007  

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