FAKE SMILES, WORLDS, TITS/ ‘THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES’

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“I have a $70,000 pair of Gucci crocodile boots.”

The only context you need: David Siegel created a timeshare empire (he sells the illusion of wealth, for a few days a year, to the middle classes.) Lauren Greenfield’s documentary finds him in the middle of completing the largest existent American home for his family. The film follows him and his wife, Jackie.

In one way, the primary subjects of The Queen of Versailles are martyrs, suffering at the lonely/dizzying heights of capitalism so that we can… suffer at the bottom? It’s a strange story, one that relies on the filth it photographs for slow-burn shock value. If you do not hate these people immediately, you will probably come to hate them.

Some have commented on the Siegel’s surprising “ordinariness,” which I find nowhere on display. They have been turned instead into human cyphers, symbols of a system that destroyed their humanity. When a pet lizard starves to death, Jackie Siegel enters into a bizarre pantomime of the appropriate parenting behaviors, unwilling to follow through with any of them. Watching this wife try and be a mother is like watching a groupie shred air guitar.

“He’s starving!” (the lizard.)

“That’s because you never take me to the pet store!”

“All right—I’m going to, go get a piece of turkey.”

And later, to another child:

“David, look: he’s dead!”

“I didn’t even know we had a lizard.”

Of course you can hardly blame the children (the Siegel’s have eight) for killing the hundredth pet their mother purchased. The home doubles as a bestiary for peacocks, dogs, fish, two kinds of snakes, and apparently lizards. There are two dead dogs lying around (one stuffed) one turned into… a piano decoration? But these pets are not companions or living creatures. In the Siegel’s world they are “pretty things” that, at one point, for one reason or another, were desirable to purchase.

The film also doubles as an occupy anthem, a reassurance that the winners of the American dream are more petty, soulless, and ultimately sad than we could have expected from the bottom. At one point, once their financial (timeshare) empire seems on the verge of, if not collapse, major downsizing, Jackie makes a telling confession: her children might have to pursue higher education. You’ll have to see the movie (and you ought to) to fully grasp the tone, but the implication is that this is the only reason any of her babies should ever have to be exposed to a university.

For then they would never know the splendor of uninterrupted money-worship, or of a life behind safely locked and gilded doors.

Did I mention Lauren Greenfield has unignorable talent? The movie is good.

-Max Berwald

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “FAKE SMILES, WORLDS, TITS/ ‘THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES’

  1. Indifferent rich moms are the best moms…

  2. mmahrer

    I agree with most of this, though I must say, it didn’t leave me with any sense of hatred but rather sadness. This film feels somewhat like a trip to the zoo. Staring at an old greying lion in it’s strange habitat: once king of the jungle now left to smile at the onlookers from its cage. Yes, it’s unfair that they have so much. No one should live with so many crazy possessions. But I can’t help but sympathize with Jackie Seigel who seems completely lost and out of touch with the world. Perhaps by her own fault, but who will help her get back in touch with reality besides her horrible, yelling husband, I have no idea. She’s totally powerless in her marriage/home. Pretty depressing.

    • Max Berwald

      You’re right: it is very sad. I think my anger is coming from this place:

      They have the resources to step outside the grind of endless work, and to produce something of value. Or else they have an opportunity to relieve suffering for others. At the very least, they have the opportunity to give their children access to the very highest quality of education, and cultivate useful citizens of the world.

      But instead they behave like drug addicts. They only ever do anything in the hope that it will make THEM a little happier. Consumption addiction.

      Maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to preach about how other people should be spending their money, but they’re not contributing to the solutions; they’re contributing to the problems.

  3. emily p

    An interesting series of moments for me were the interviews with the Siegel’s adopted daughter (whose name escapes me), the one who’d lived in poverty for a good chunk of her childhood. She had some really interesting insights into the family’s disfunction, and also into what it means and feels like to be rich and American. But she was also party to the bizarre lizard incident, insisting it wasn’t her fault because no one would take her to the pet store, and attempting a major guilt-attack move on Jackie with all the flouncy entitlement older generations impress on millennials. You could just see her slipping away from reality, partly from being sixteen, and partly from being insanely rich.

    • Max Berwald

      Jonquin or Jonquil, right? Yeah, I want to see any and all additional footage of her talking. She sounds like a fascinating case study but, in the movie it looks like she’s pretty much gone to the dark side. She actually diagnoses the consumption addiction pretty aptly/bluntly when she says something along the lines of “You think (when you don’t have much) that having everything would make you happy, but you just want more and more.” That’s about the size of it. Doesn’t David at one point slip and say “nothing can make me happy”? Or something to that effect.

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