Posted in Arts

Personal Shopper drags the audience into a fog of angst

The film's triumph was that it made me feel like shit

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) tries to contact her recently departed brother throughout the course of the film by using her skills as a medium who can’t directly talk to the dead.
Maureen (Kristen Stewart) tries to contact her recently departed brother throughout the course of the film by using her skills as a medium who can’t directly talk to the dead.
Image Credits: CG Cinema

Personal Shopper is classified as a horror movie, but the scariest part wasn’t the ghost. It was the malaise the audience was left with at the conclusion of the film.

My initial response was that it was a horrible film, because it left me feeling confused and disappointed. There was a lot going on, and the many threads of plot were never resolved. Indeed, it was greatly unsatisfying not getting any resolution. In the end, though, things did come together for me.

Personal Shopper follows Maureen (Kristen Stewart), an American in Paris working as a personal shopper for a celebrity. Maureen also happens to be a medium. While she can’t directly talk to spirits, she has a self-proclaimed “awareness of their vibe.” Throughout the film, she tries to contact her twin brother, who recently died of a heart defect that she also has.  

She doesn’t really like her job, but she doesn’t really want to do anything else. She doesn’t like who she is, but she doesn’t know who she wants to be. In this existential limbo, the only conviction Maureen seems to have is her desire to get in touch with her brother. Then again, she isn’t certain she will be able to get in contact with him, or that there even is an afterlife.  

After watching this movie, the only thing I could confidently assert was that Stewart’s character is steeped in uncertainty. One of the most confusing parts of the movie was a sequence of shots in a hotel: an elevator door opening and closing, and a sliding door opening and closing. It was as if someone was leaving the hotel, with the camera following them as they walked out, except that there was no one there! The implication being that a ghost was leaving — I think. Immediately after, the same sequence of shots were played, but this time one of the characters was included in the sequence, walking out.

This was one of the most jarring moments in the film, which also makes it one of the most pivotal for me. Were there literally both a ghost and this man leaving, or did the writer mean it as a statement that “it doesn’t matter what happened” or that “it’s up to personal interpretation”? I think it was just meant to show that we really don’t know what happened. As unsatisfying as that is, there is no answer.  

Other audience members seemed to be frustrated. When the credits started, I heard a bunch of WTFs. This was my gut reaction too, but ultimately I felt this film accomplished what it was supposed to. Lack of answers or closure, confusion, disappointment — this is exactly what the main character experiences in the film. She was looking for answers to metaphysical questions about the afterlife. She was looking for closure after her brother’s death, to know whether he was at peace.

At the end, she doesn’t gain the understanding she had hoped for. So if my feelings after watching this film were meant to parallel the feeling of the main character, then this movie was a huge success.

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