March 24, 2018
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  • Because “Personal Shopper” is so introspective, Kristen Stewart must carry the show and deliver a performance full of grief, malaise and anxiety without the support of many other characters.
    Photo courtesy of Les Films du Losange
    Because “Personal Shopper” is so introspective, Kristen Stewart must carry the show and deliver a performance full of grief, malaise and anxiety without the support of many other characters.

“Personal Shopper” Accurately Depicts The Anxieties Of The Modern World

Audrey Ruppert
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May 3, 2017

When “Personal Shopper” was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the credits incited boos from the audience; it was one of the most divisive films of the festival, and it’s not hard to see why. “Personal Shopper” left me feeling disappointed once the credits rolled, but I came to appreciate and even admire it after a few days of pondering what it all meant.

“Personal Shopper” is disjointed, confusing and difficult to categorize — if one had to try, it could be labeled a ghost-fashion-murder-mystery film. But this is part of its charm; despite largely featuring the supernatural, “Personal Shopper” feels like real life, and real life does not often translate to the tight, pre-packaged narratives we see on movie screens.

It takes the viewer about an hour to even discern what is happening, as little is explained, but eventually the pieces fall into place. We learn that Maureen, an American, is living in Paris and waiting for supernatural contact from her deceased brother, Lewis. Lewis told Maureen before he died that he believed in the afterlife, and that he would contact her within a certain period after his death if he died first; both twins possess a birth defect that could either be benign until old age, or strike and kill them at any moment. To support her time in Paris, Maureen works as a personal shopper for a wealthy supermodel, supplying her with the clothes and accessories she needs for fashion shoots. She also has a seemingly random sort-of boyfriend who does software and IT work in Oman.

The film does feel muddled, directionless and slow for the first hour, but once more, this is the beauty of it; the film seems to be entirely about grief, and this is what grief feels like. The whole film is shot in muted tones. Rain and cold autumn wind often blow through empty spaces. Conversely, a feeling of quiet might occur in the tight, crammed space of Maureen’s apartment.

Kristen Stewart’s performance is riveting — long gone is the expressionless Bella Swan. She had to perform well, because this film is extremely introspective. It is completely centered on Maureen’s inner feelings of grief, malaise, anxiety and uncertainty; there are few supporting characters, and she must hold the show.

Stewart’s primary co-star in “Personal Shopper” is her own cellphone. About an hour into the film, “Personal Shopper” goes from slow and sedated to adrenaline inducing. Maureen receives a mysterious text message from a total stranger, whose identity remains unknown throughout the film. If there is one uncontroversial statement about “Personal Shopper,” it is that the film nails the anxiety social media and texting creates in us. So often, films do not give an accurate portrayal of technology - the technology is used only to advance the plot, and its inner mechanics are never analyzed. Frequently, in even the most modern of films, we see a character typing words into a search engine, only for images to fill the screen instantaneously without any intermediary clicking - that’s not how Google works.

“Personal Shopper” not only gets technology right but it also understands how technology makes us feel and react. We see the little typing bubbles appearing on the screen when Maureen texts the mystery man (and somehow, we know it’s a man, even though he never says so). We see that he reads her messages right away, always, as if her chat is always open. We see Maureen put her phone on airplane mode to try to avoid thinking about the conversation at times. But most brilliant of all is the reading between the lines we are forced to do, not only in this film but also in all text conversations. Without seeing a person in front of us, without any context, we are left to wild speculation about the true meaning of messages sent to us over the phone.

In the end, “Personal Shopper” has no answers. It’s frustrating when the film concludes, because the viewer is not left with a sense of resolution. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I cannot outline why this is the case - but believe me, it’s the case. Not a single plot line is resolved by the end of the film. But in the end, you may realize that this is the point. Grief and bereavement at the death of a loved one leave us with no answers. You may go over past events fruitlessly, trying to make sense of them, as you will go over plot points for days after watching this movie, but in the end, there is no rhyme, sense or reason to grief.

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