Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Personal Shopper

As a general rule I avoid horror films. Scary movies generally frighten me! So I probably would never have gone to see Personal Shopper if a friend hadn't earnestly recommended it. Personal Shopper is a French thriller (set mostly in France but spoken mostly in English), that the reviewer for Variety called a “never boring mix of spine-tingling horror story, dreary workplace drama and elliptical identity search.” That's an awful lot for a mere 1 hour and 50 minutes!

The heroine, Maureen (Kristen Stewart), is a young American in Paris. How long she has been there we never really learn, but we know that she stays there in order to connect with her dead twin brother who apparently also lived and worked there and just recently died there. It seems both of them share a common genetic heart defect, and each had promised the other that whoever died first would try to communicate from ... wherever. In short, both the dead brother and the surviving sister are into what has traditionally been called "spiritualism." Some of the movie's scariest scenes suggest some of her interaction with not necessarily benevolent spirits. Also genuinely creepy is her interaction with an anonymous stalker (possibly alive, possibly dead) who starts texting her while she is on a business errand to London.

Meanwhile, Maureen supports herself by working for a celebrity model Kyra. She motorcycles from one fashion designer or jeweler to another or takes the train to London and back to pick up appropriate clothes, shoes, etc., for her barely present boss. Not being into horror or spiritualism and not desirous of being frightened any more than necessary, my attention almost automatically focused more on her subservient relationship with her spoiled rich, high-status, highly entitled, demanding employer. Kyra (and those she surrounds herself) with seem to epitomize the global celebrity elite in all its vacuous rootlessness. Maureen is Kyra's trusted and apparently well paid servant, but (being ultimately always just a servant) is prohibited from trying on Kyra's elegant fashions, which, of course, Maureen wants to do - and does indeed do in a secret ritual of defiant disobedience. Her job is superficially glamorous in the sense that she interacts with glamorous people and places, but at the same time it comes across as a degrading experience of servility to the rich. Maureen evidently  hates her job (and perhaps even her employer). Apart from skyping with her boyfriend who is away working in the Middle East, her only real relationships seem to be with her dead brother's widowed partner and some other friends of his who are eager to buy the house where she goes to try to seance with him.Like so many contemporary busy people who seem to be forever going somewhere, she actually goes nowhere and seems ultimately alone - frightfully so. Throughout, even while busily serving her haughty mistress, her emotional focus remains tied to her brother and to her confusing attempts to communicate with him (or have him communicate with her). 

Whatever the audience is supposed to make of her supposed spiritualism, her (and her friends') responses to her brother's death seem to confirm G.K. Chesterton's often quoted observation: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

But whatever we are supposed to make of her supposed spiritualism, Maureen remains ultimately a sadly haunted solitary - like so many of her contemporaries, most of whom of course lead more conventionally dull existences as neither would-be mediums nor personal shoppers for the glamorous rich. 

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