What is on supposed to do if they feel like they are in the presence of a ghost? Should they cower, letting the terror of something otherworldly wash over them? Should they listen, hoping that a bit of communication of unfulfilled wishes will allow the dearly departed to finally rest in peace?
How does one know for sure? Feeling haunted can be so tremendously overwhelming that one may have no control over what they do…particularly when the ghost that one comes face to face with is oneself.
The titular PERSONAL SHOPPER is Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart).
When we meet her, we learn that she has recently lost her twin brother at the age of 27. She is spending great amounts of time in the French estate he lived in last, in the hopes of making contact with his spirit. Maureen is a medium, as was her brother before he passed. Each made a promise that they would make contact across the spiritual divide, and Maureen is clearly feeling frayed at her inability to connect with her brother’s spirit.
Consumed as this problem has her, Maureen cannot fixate on it every hour of every day. The bulk of her time is spent working as a personal shopper for a model named Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). She zips around Paris on her scooter – going from pillar to post in a constant quest to keep Lara looking fabulous. Her taste is flawless, always with her client in-mind…seldom herself.
Once in a while Maureen allow herself a moment of weakness and see how the garments look on her own body, but for the most part she drifts through this world of high fashion in skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors.
Just as she is getting Lara set for an especially busy stretch, Maureen begins to get text messages from an unknown caller. They taunt and tease her…suggesting that she is hiding behind a mask, and that she really wants so much more than life is currently offering her. Most people would ignore or block such inquisitions…but something in Maureen sees her departed brother in the line of questioning.
She decides to play along, hoping that the haunting nature of her life will crack open and reveal a morsel of truth. But what happens if that search for truth and peace leads to greater deception and violence?
PERSONAL SHOPPER looks the audience square in the eye and asks how much we’d like to be someone else. At our highest moments…at our lowest moments…wouldn’t some part of us be willing to pay a steep price to slip into another persona. That persona may be swankier or subtler, but the point is that it is not us. It comes with greater confidence, a higher profile, and more than anything – another chance. We wonder if part of Lara wants this; to live a simpler life and be able to truly enjoy picking through the splendid clothing she pays someone else to get her.
We don’t need to wonder if Maureen wants it – we can see full-well that she does. The question is just what persona she wants most. Does she want to live that haute couture profile she slips on so easily? Does she want to live somewhere simple and create? Does she want to seek out paranormal activity? She slips in and out of these modes so easily…which would she drape herself in indefinitely if she had the chance?
It’s this question that allows that entity sending Maureen text messages to get into her head. It goes beyond suggesting that it would be fun to be famous, or be enticing to be artistic. It burrows into that soft spot at the back of all of our skulls that wonders “What if I’m not who I’m supposed to be”. It eats at us…burrows under our skin and takes hold like a parasite.
It haunts us.
Watching Stewart try to cast out these demons is what makes PERSONAL SHOPPER so special. She is fully committed to this crisis of faith, and embodies that cold panic in her every word and gesture. It’s hard to believe that we could be rapt seeing someone come unglued staring at the LED of their phone…and yet, that’s precisely what Stewart does. In this film, she’s every panic attack we’ve ever had – every self-conscious moment where we’ve been most susceptible.
This film exists in the blurry space between trying to grieve and trying to keep composed. In a perfect world, deep loss would allow us to press a pause button on life. It would us all to mourn not only those we’ve lost, but the version of ourselves that is slipping away as well. It would let us feel everything so much more intensely for the first time, and come to grips with this new heightened sensibility. That world doesn’t exist though…not for most of us. Most of us need to keep working, keep earning, keep putting one foot in front of the other. We don’t want to, not really. But we drift through those murky waters and say “we’re okay” when we really aren’t.
This feeling can’t be properly described – it has to be experienced.To this end, Stewart and Assayas do an incredible job of making us experience even a bit of it. Between the chic and the shiver lives a film about doubt and loss. It’s a story that knows how much we all want to be looked in the eye and told it will all be okay. It’s the heart’s desire for some; the dying wish for others.
If we’re lucky, we even believe the voice that tells us.