An exceptional beauty with a rebellious mind, Queen Elisabeth was the Empress of Vienna in 19th-century Austria. Many stories have been told about her, including the most current and well-known Netflix release, “The Empress.” In contrast to “The Empress,” which focuses on Sisi’s romantic bond with her husband Franz Joseph I, “Corsage” by Marie Kreutzer shows a middle-aged Sisi who feels confined in her palace and yearns for the freedom to relish her life. She intensified her high-maintenance schedule as she approached 40 in an effort to retain her youthful appearance, while her perfect marriage began to rust with the passage of time.
The influence of her domineering mother-in-law Sophie, the passing of her son Rudolf, and the final tragedy of her life—her assassination—are all mentioned when history is written about Queen Elisabeth of Vienna. However, none of these were depicted in “Corsage.” Marie Kreutzer exercised her artistic liberty by telling her story in a more conciliatory manner, which occasionally allowed viewers to empathize with Sisi. Her melancholy, desire for freedom, and appetite for romance made her seem more like an ordinary lady than a queen.
Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie was born to Princess Ludovika of Bavaria and Duke Maximilian Joseph I of Bavaria in the year 1837. Helene, her older sister, was poised and quiet, while Elisabeth, also known as Sisi, was a rebel and individualist. When Franz Joseph’s controlling mother, Archduchess Sophie, was looking for a suitable wife for her son, she thought it should be a niece rather than a total stranger. She made the decision to set up the marriage between her son and Helene, the older daughter of her sister Ludovika. However, when Franz first saw Elisabeth, he was smitten by her and decided to marry her immediately. After the marriage, Sisi and Franz could only give birth to two daughters, which Sophie took away from her and believed Sisi was a silly young mother who wasn’t able to have a male child. Sisi was despised in the palace because she couldn’t have a son who would be the heir to the crown. While she was being brutally judged for her inability to produce a son, her first child fell severely ill and eventually died. Her first daughter’s passing caused her to lose all sense of joy. She struggled with depression for a very long time until getting pregnant for the third time in December 1857.
Elisabeth gave birth to a son named Rudolf on August 21, 1858, but she continued to face obstacles when trying to raise him and take charge of his schooling due to her mother-in-law. She started to resist, but her strict diet and strenuous workout regimen caused her to be distressed, and she was given a diagnosis of green sickness or anemia. In addition to her three pregnancies and the profound trauma of losing a child, anorexia, which was brought on by her meticulously controlled food and fitness regimen, had also harmed her physical strength. She used to learn fencing, horseback riding, and get engaged in various beautification regimens, such as bathing in cold water with olive oil. Despite numerous illnesses, she was able to maintain her youthful appearance. She used to tie her corset tightly to give the appearance of a slender figure.
Additionally, she spent a lot of time preserving her long, gorgeous, walnut-brown hair. She led an opulent life full of beauty routines, such as getting her face massaged regularly, soaking her garments in violet or cider vinegar, and many more. In the meantime, she started to feel as though her marriage was solely intended for childbearing. Franz desired a second son after Rudolf, but Sisi loudly objected. She left with the intention of avoiding getting pregnant and living alone. Elisabeth was a personal advocate for Gyula Andrassy, a Hungarian count who was also rumored to be her admirer and lover. She ultimately made the choice to have a fourth child and got back to her husband. As a result of her sympathy and emotional bond with Hungary, she made the decision to give Hungary the same status as Austria. Gyula was appointed the first prime minister of the Austria-Hungary dual monarchy, while Franz and Sisi were crowned king and queen. During her stay in Hungary, the queen gave birth to Valerie, her fourth child and third daughter, whose upbringing was entirely overseen by Sisi. After Sophie’s grip on her children ultimately waned, she passed away in 1872.
However, for Sisi, the latter half of the 19th century was a living nightmare. She lost her son Rudolf to suicide when he was only 30 years old. She seemed to find it very difficult to recover from such trauma. She lost her parents and her sisters Helene and Sophie within a few years. Gyula, her sole friend, was also gone. She wore exclusively black when her son passed away and fell back into depression. She used to use opium doses to get through the painful period of her menopause. During this time, when she received several warnings of assassination attempts, she never confided herself to home and instead started traveling covertly out of a desire for freedom. Finally, on September 10, 1898, while en route to Geneva, she and her lady-in-waiting checked out of the hotel by the lake. While they were going along the esplanade, a young Italian anarchist stabbed her in the chest with a knife. She fell unconscious after being stabbed and regained her senses for a moment. She couldn’t feel any pain and didn’t even understand what had happened to her. She fell unconscious again and eventually died. When Franz first learned of his wife’s passing, he thought it was a suicide; however, the autopsy report later revealed that she had been killed by a blow from a small, sharp knife. The reign of the Empress had come to an end, but a museum dedicated to her, together with other pieces of art and films, had preserved the glorious yet tragic life of beauty queen Elisabeth of Vienna.
Marie Kreutzer’s Cannes Film Festival entry, “Corsage,” centered on Queen Elisabeth’s melancholy life, in which she was disregarded by her husband and criticized for her distinct ideology. Most essentially, “Corsage” depicted a hypothetical point of view so as to show her suicide rather than the assassination. Even though there was a rumored relationship between her and Gyula, the movie focused on her relationship with her cousin Ludwig or occasionally her horseback riding guide Bay, showcasing her natural side as she searched for only a trustworthy friend or partner with whom she could share her suffering and her desires—and it didn’t have to be a powerful man. The Empress, however, was unable to abandon her marriage status to live alone or to shirk her royal responsibilities to live a regular life. But soon, the fear of being judged was alleviated when she understood that her decision could not be forced by others. In the latter half of “Corsage,” she had her hair cut and enjoyed a cream cake at the end of her meal. She felt in charge of her life and was content with her unique personality. Unlike Elisabeth’s real life, “Corsage” showed her death after jumping from a ship into the ocean’s depths. A vast sea overwhelmed her, and thus she chose her own fate. Queen Elisabeth from “Corsage” experienced a death that was greater than any historical catastrophe. She leaped into the sea to discover the unknown, embracing nature and sacrificing her royal life. In light of this, Marie Kreutzer’s imaginative approach to the movie’s ending is deserving of praise.