Let Them Eat Cake: A Soundtrack and Film Analysis of Marie Antoinette (2006)

Marie Antoinette (2006), directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst, boasts a spunky, youthful soundtrack of indie rock, pop-rock, and post-punk hits. The soundtrack feels like a character itself: the music animates Marie’s world and makes her more human. The film examines the female adolescent experience set in 18th-century Versailles. The youthful soundtrack invites the viewer into Marie’s emotions while observing her recklessness and loneliness unfolding into the French Revolution’s beginnings. The music gives a voice to the inner turmoil and thoughts she could not express.

As the leader of the French monarchy and centerpiece of the court, Marie was the hub of public attention and scrutiny. Originally from Austria, Antoinette faced intense criticism and high standards by the court and the public as a foreigner for anything she did. Her new husband, King Louis XVI, failed to give her an heir for the first 7 years of their marriage, leading to more blame and disdain from the public. The camera stays focused on Antoinette throughout the film, just as the eyes of the court and the public are. Teens sometimes feel as though the weight of the world rests on their shoulders and the eyes of the world follow. Marie Antoinette quite literally experienced this. The public and court represented her parents, serving constant criticism and fueling her rebellious energy and determination to define herself in a homogenous and traditional world. 

The newly married Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI eat an awkward breakfast.

When she first arrived to Versailles at 14 years old, leaving her family and everything she knew behind, all eyes were immediately on her. The wistful vocals and words of The Radio Dept.’s “I Don’t Like It Like This” play while Antoinette observed the expansive scenes of Versailles and the people waiting to greet her. The song lets the viewer into Antoinette’s thoughts of worry, insecurity, and anticipation as she begins a new, challenging chapter in her life. As she continued to adjust to her new life, the angsty vocals and crunchy guitar of Gang of Four’s, “Naturals Not In It”, and Bow Wow Wow’s “Aphrodisiac” animate the crushing and growing criticism, loneliness, and displacement Antoinette felt during the first few years at Versailles.

Antoinette takes her first few steps at Versailles as onlookers assess their new queen.
The court waits for Marie Antoinette to get out of bed to begin her morning routine.

While being queen came with immense pressure and loneliness, it also came with immense privilege and fabulously lavish goods and experiences. Marie Antoinette loved to party, and she knew how to have a good time. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” blasts behind a montage of Antoinette and her close girlfriends getting ready for a night out. They wear jeweled, embroidered dresses, towering, powdered poufs (wigs), and bowed heels, their faces rouged and painted. Towers of champagne are spilled and drunk by the giggling and smiling throng of women. “I Want Candy” perfectly encapsulates the joy of dressing up and spending time with good friends. Antoinette uses her fashion, one of the few things she could control, to rebel and find herself. Although her choices (in combination with other factors) did eventually lead to the French Revolution, Coppola and the soundtrack invite the audience to see Marie and her choices as the result of reclaiming the commodification of her body and her life through self-expression in her clothing.

Dress up, booze, pastries, and poker; that’s my kind of pregame.
Marie Antoinette knew how to have a good time.

The girls sneak off to Paris for a masquerade ball. All dolled up and ready to dance, Siouxsie and the Garden’s “Hong Kong Garden” strings introduction plays, while Antoinette and her posse strut down the stairs to observe the scene below. By the time they arrive on the dancefloor, the song has transitioned into a full-on punk ballad, the vocals of Siouxsie Sioux blasting, backed by a lively drum tempo and crunchy, bright electric guitar riffs. Partygoers dance in lavish attire. In the punky crux of the chorus, the posh crowd in masquerade blends into an 18th-century style mosh.

Ah yes, a romantic glide down the stairs into a masquerade ball.
The 18th-century mosh.

On the morning of Marie’s birthday, New Order’s “Ceremony” plays while she and a pack of other drunken court members giggle and run around the gardens of Versailles as the sun rises. They pop another bottle of champagne as the sunlight peaks above the hills, wishing her a happy birthday with the clink of glasses. The ringing, crunchy guitar riffs and the punchy drums of “Ceremony” are joyous and prompt the audience to recall similar moments of reckless youth and rebellious joy.

Champagne glasses in hand, Marie Antoinette and friends frolick in the early morning light to catch the sunrise.
Monarchs, they’re just like us!

While some might think the combination of modern music and conversations with historical media is corny, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) was one of the first to do it and she did it damn well. Coppola wants the watcher/listener of the film to indulge in the spectacle of teen angst, misery, and loneliness as much as Marie Antoinette did in her jewelry, clothing, and shoes. I highly recommend giving the film a watch and blasting the soundtrack to feel like an 18th-century teen queen yourself. Let them eat cake! 

You and your friends when listening to the Marie Antoinette (2006) soundtrack:
Check out the soundtrack!

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