‘Corsage’ Ending, Explained: Is It Based On Real Events? What Was Empress Elisabeth’s Final Act Of Rebellion?


The life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria has been studied and recreated in several films, most recently the Netflix series “The Empress.” While “The Empress” focused on Elisabeth’s early life, her romance with Franz Joseph I, and her introduction to her royal lifestyle, “Corsage” revolves around the time when she turned 40, a phase that was particularly difficult for Elisabeth to deal with. The series dealt with her initial hiccups as she adjusted to her new life; in “Corsage,” we come across a mature Elisabeth who has by now mostly abandoned her duties and tries to deal with her melancholy by traveling where her heart desires. She is remembered for being a rebel when it came to performing her royal duties. All throughout her life, she searched for a deeper meaning to her existence. The German word “Corsage” translates to “corset,” hinting at the restrictive lifestyle that the Empress was expected to live and also indicative of the tight corsets that she wore to maintain her “inhumanly” slender waist. Directed by Marie Kreutzer, “Corsage” is a modern reimagination of the life of Empress Elisabeth, providing her with agency and the extent of liberty that she was denied during her time.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Elisabeth’s obsession with getting her waist measured daily is demonstrated in the very first scene. She cannot rely on the new assistant and calls her trusted lady-in-waiting to tie the corset tightly. Her first act of rebellion was when she faked fainting at the Museum of Art History when the conversation about her health and weight started to repulse her. Sissi’s undying affection for her cousin Ludwig is also explored in “Corsage.” Their relationship surpasses that of friendship and love, something that was difficult for those around to comprehend. In her 40s, her relationship with her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, soured due to their different beliefs and expectations. While Elisabeth dreamed of being a free bird, her husband expected her to play the role of an Empress to perfection. She despised being just a beautiful face to look at. She was aware of how she was simply the representative of the crown and not the decision-maker. Initially, it was just her husband who forbade her from indulging in pleasures that could ruin her reputation; later, even her son, Rudolf, forced his opinion on her. She wanted freedom or a sense of joy amidst the abundance that she possessed, but sadly, she was mostly draped in melancholia.

Empress Elisabeth was often the subject of gossip, either for her lack of interest in the royal lifestyle or her colorful personal life. She was considered one of the most beautiful women of the 19th century, and her physique and long hair were always the talk of the tabloids. Sissi found it increasingly difficult to accept the changes her body and facial structure were going through as she was growing older, especially when those around her commented on her weight. She wanted to maintain her youthful glow and resorted to extreme measures to preserve it. Elisabeth preferred staying away from the palace, and she would often travel to her home, Bavaria. While she did not care much about the rigid rules an Empress was bound to follow, her sister did not feel the same way. While Franz fell in love with Elisabeth, it was Helene who was considered to be his perfect match. We witness a moment of friction between the sisters when Elisabeth realizes that Helene was involved in encouraging Rudolf to discuss the limits of her freedom with her.

Elisabeth enjoyed riding, and she wanted her daughter, Valerie, to learn to proclaim her freedom. Though her daughter considered her mother’s behavior reckless and strange. Valerie was fond of the royal lifestyle and could not comprehend the freedom her mother was desperately seeking. Elisabeth had always been sympathetic to those suffering from mental illness, and she had dedicated a great deal of time to visiting the mental asylum. “Corsage” focuses on Elisabeth’s loneliness, melancholy, and overall feeling of lack of purpose. With whispers and discussions about her weight and appearance, turning 40 was almost dreadful for Elisabeth. She feared losing her importance as her beauty would eventually fade away with time.

The unmatchable performance of Vicky Krieps, the impactful lighting, and the cinematography, along with Marie Kreutzer’s reimagination, make “Corsage” a must-watch.

‘Corsage’ Ending Explained: What Was Empress Elisabeth’s Final Act Of Rebellion? Is It Based On Real Events?

As the distance between Elisabeth and Franz grew, she sought affection and pleasure from the world outside. Her relationship with Count Gyula Andrassy was publicly discussed, and her son, Rudolf, mentioned it to her in passing during a dinner party. Elisabeth enjoyed the company of her cousin Ludwig, who was equally eccentric. Both Ludwig and Elisabeth had reached esteemed positions at a young age, making it easier for the two to relate to their shared miseries and search for the little pleasures in life together. The film imagines Elisabeth making a move on Ludwig, but her cousin stops her. While Elisabeth wanted to fill her void with the touch of her cousin, he did not intend for their relationship to be sexual. Rudolf was displeased when he realized how his mother could be the subject of ruthless discussions for her involvement with her riding instructor, Bay. He sympathized with his mother, for he, too, at times felt out of place in the court, but at the same time, he cared for his mother’s reputation. Elisabeth couldn’t care less about the gossip, but she was broken when her son tried to question her personal choice. The weight of her title followed her, and even though she mostly traveled all her life, she could not part ways with the expectations that came with being an Empress.

Elisabeth’s obsession with weight and what can be interpreted as an eating disorder can be rooted in her lack of control over other aspects of her life. She barely had any say in political affairs; she could not enter her husband’s room when she wanted to confront him, and the only place where she held true power was in her chamber with her ladies-in-waiting. Therefore, maintaining a slender waist that was often considered almost inhumane gave her a sense of purpose because her control over food had a physical impact that she could measure. Elisabeth’s inability to accept her age was evident when she asked an artist to copy her face from the previous portraits. She wanted to remain the young Elisabeth that people admired. When she discussed the loss of her first daughter, Sophie, she mentioned how at least they were leaving behind a pretty picture of her. The portraits with youthful elegance were her way of leaving behind a beautiful picture even though, internally, she was tired of the life she was living. She is mostly seen consuming beef stew or two slices of oranges, indicative of her eating disorder. Before leaving for her final journey, she weighs herself and is seen relishing a cream cake.

Apart from her two dogs, who always accompanied her and brought a smile to her face, Elisabeth enjoyed the company of her favorite lady-in-waiting, Lotti. When Lotti mentioned that a count had proposed to her, Elisabeth was quick to ask her to not accept it. She could not lose Lotti’s company because she was the only one who loved her for who she was. The film explored their relationship, which was layered with admiration and concern. Though Elisabeth’s general lack of interest in the women around her is obvious when she constantly confuses one assistant with another. She was so deeply wrapped up in her own despair that she could barely see beyond herself. Initially, Elisabeth struggled to accept her husband’s affair with an eighteen-year-old, Anna Nohowski. She felt insecure knowing that Anna had what she was gradually losing—her youth. She later accepted their relationship and made a formal agreement in which she exerted control over her husband’s affair. “Corsage” allows Elisabeth to perform her ultimate act of rebellion by chopping off her hair. Chopping off the iconic long curls that defined beauty was her way of distancing herself from all expectations. She was relieved of the weight and the rigorous beauty standard for once. This act allowed Elisabeth to be carefree.

Before leaving for Italy, Valerie gifted her mother a picture she had drawn. She mentioned that she loved the poise and grace with which her mother conducted herself on the birthday of the Emperor. Sadly, Elisabeth had sent her body double that day to attend the event. She was far from the image of the perfect mother that her daughter hoped for her to be, and the realization only made her feel dejected. Away from the claustrophobic walls of the palace, in the vastness of the sea, Elisabeth felt at home. While her lady-in-waiting posed as the Empress, she was free from all obligations. The jump into the sea can be defined as the pinnacle of her journey to freedom or a chance to reimagine her death. Instead of the assassination, “The Corsage” ends with Elisabeth embracing the unknown and taking a plunge away from the judgmental eyes of the men who controlled her. She was free, and in the end, she was offered a chance to decide her fate. By using contemporary music, “Corsage” establishes the modern reimagination where Elisabeth had the freedom and space to show the middle finger while exiting a dinner party.

“Corsage” is a 2022 Drama Biopic film directed by Marie Kreutzer.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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