MARIE ANTOINETTE’s Soundtrack Underscores A Rebellion
Music has always been an integral part of Sofia Coppola's work - just as the actions of her characters speak for themselves, so does the soundtrack. The unnervingly surreal quality of Air's score for The Virgin Suicides; the solemn dreaminess of My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields and Phoenix in Lost in Translation; the grungy pop of Somewhere; and the rowdy, heavily electronic soundtrack of The Bling Ring. Each song list expertly curated to reflect a mood, a place, a time. Although each of Coppola's films meditate on young women trapped in exquisitely lonely cages of privilege, each soundtrack is tailor-made to the individual experience.
But no Coppola soundtrack is as pitch-perfect as Marie Antoinette - a curiously attractive blend of contemporary, retro and classic; a flick of the wrist dismissing convention. Through Coppola's lens, the story of Marie Antoinette is one of teenage angst, of two naive kids thrust onto gilded thrones, expected to skillfully navigate royal society, expected to shape and guide the future of an entire nation. It's the story of a dainty Austrian girl betrothed to a juvenile prince, the former dazzled by her new privileges, the latter preoccupied with boyish hobbies. The heft of expectation is suffocating - they are expected to consummate a marriage with no sexual experience, to procreate when they've hardly learned the meaning of responsibility, to lord over a country when they have no concept of a life outside a palace.
Coppola's film is an act of youthful rebellion, reflecting the willful nerve of Marie and Louis and their bawdy friends, all trapped in a life that expects too much with little explanation. There are no consistent accents or dialects - Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman speak with their native American accents, while British actors speak in their sophisticated tongue. You couldn't possibly ask Rip Torn to affect a French accent no more than you could command a cat to hop on one leg.
Coppola is not preoccupied with mundane details, and her soundtrack is similarly defiant. Marie Antoinette opens with Gang of Four's "Natural's Not in It," a punky introduction reinforced by the title font, evocative of the Sex Pistols logo. Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden" and Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" and "Aphrodisiac" punctuate luxe sequences of masquerades and confectionery indulgence, enhancing the candy-colored aesthetic with extra sugar.
The Cure's palatial "Plainsong" plays over exterior shots of Versailles, an appropriately epic and gorgeous angst anthem that informs our view of this ornate prison. Marie Antoinette lives in a gilded cage of emotion.
There's perhaps no better example of the marriage of music genres than Aphex Twin's "Avril 14th," a simple and haunting keyboard instrumental that feels like it was ripped from the 17th century, the elegantly jarring notes suggestive of an afflicted man in a powder wig playing the harpsichord. But there's something eerily contemporary about the track, as if it belongs to no particular place in time.
Coppola's film ends with Dunst's Marie Antoinette, heart-heavy from an affair, torn between two men just as she's torn between her coming of age and her country. As she runs defiantly down the palace hall, The Strokes' "What Ever Happened?" plays, and the lyrics could have easily been written just for her: "I want to be forgotten, and I don't want to be reminded." She is a lost girl struggling for air, her entire life consumed by a fickle public, forbidden from the privilege of growing up privately with every embarrassment and mundane mistake magnified and over-analyzed. Poor little rich girl is the refrain in every Coppola film, an examination of the lack of emotional privilege in an objectively fortunate life.
Julian Casablancas asks, "Whose culture is this and does anybody know?" - an existential pop culture contemplation, most definitely appropriate for Marie Antoinette. Coppola explores the pop culture of 18th century France, the elaborate meals and dresses and impossibly stacked hair, the way a young girl rebels through these tangible details, her little acts of defiance turned into trends. Each attempt to push back against the norm is eagerly devoured by an adoring public just as eager to find something to hate in their ethereal young queen.
Coppola's final act of rebellion is the refusal to end the film with the tragic end of her protagonist's life. Marie Antoinette was beheaded, the result of her country's own act of rebellion - but Coppola's film isn't about a country; it's about a teenage girl.