Personal Shopper: Do you fear ghosts, or the void?

I recall this anecdote about the making of The Shining. Kubrick was in conversation with King about ghost stories, trying to get a sense his beliefs to aid in the adaptation process. When King pressed back Kubrick stated he was not afraid of ghosts, even fictional ones, to be afraid of ghosts you have to believe that consciousness can continue after death. Is that really scarier than the alternative?

Personal Shopper is about this, it’s a ghost story in which we don’t fear the existence of the ghost, we fear what the implications of its absence may be. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) lives in France, for a living she buys clothes for a film star far too famous and busy to visit the fashion houses of London and Paris herself. Outside town, she feels something pulling at her from the old house of her dead brother.

Writer/Director Olivier Assayas has detachment on his mind here. She is gifted with the front door keys to her employers’ city apartment, but at the same time her employer is never home. What is the meaning of this gesture then, she leaves bags, shoes, jewellery on the kitchen counters to be found at some later time, clothes are hung up in a walk-in, still in their garment bags. What does the space become then, personal, public? The characters themselves do not seem to know, while together they never quite get the chance to talk, and even apart they do their best not to meet.

She spends her days engaging in transaction, that physical release of all our pent up capitalist desire, yet she is using someone else’s money, and the things she buys are not hers either. Where does that place her in the capitalist system? An invisible third party to the pleasure of purchase. A scene in Cartier buying gold, short on time, she rushes through the process, an uncommitted lover perhaps, or merely a spectator to the true pleasure taking place.

Assayas goes all out in making the relationship between capitalism and sex explicit here, it comes across as a little uncomfortable, but then it should. All those lines about there being no ethical consumption under capitalism, well you take them to their natural conclusion here. To the film’s benefit it’s rarely leering, Yorick Le Saux’s camera chooses to keep a distance from our characters here, seeing them through doorways and around corners and trapped on the screens that become our lifelines to one another.

And all of this might be worth something if it fitted together, but it don’t it’s rapidly changing themes and mood and even the way it tries to slide between genre just didn’t work for me, so packed full of ideas and even packaged up pretty nice, but none of them come across with any sort of urgency. This film got a warning in it, if you’re struggling to find an identity be careful that you don’t just take up someone else’s. In this regard the film a hypocrite it’s influences can be seen all down its sleeves.

Sure, Kisten Stewart is good now, great even. She’s, I suppose, the film’s saving grace because you’re putting the entire weight of the film on her shoulders, but honestly even her talents ain’t enough to save the damn thing. Honestly I don’t have too much else to go here, I was wiped out when I saw the thing, should probably take another run at it if I get the chance. I could see the film’s conviction up there clear as day, I just couldn’t find its source.


One response to “Personal Shopper: Do you fear ghosts, or the void?”

  1. […] Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper is never incoherent, too talented for that, but all the ideas within don’t always cohere. […]


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