My Favorite Movies: The Devil Wears Prada

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I almost didn’t go see this because the trailers were just a two minute segment from the film. It told me nothing and gave me no reason to have any interest. If I hadn’t been bored on a Friday afternoon and decided to go to the movies, I might not have discovered my favorite “chick flick”! So, here are the things I love most about this film.

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Andy

I relate to her as a character. She shows a lot of my own tendencies and weaknesses; she is at first prejudiced against anything she doesn’t consider to be “intellectual,” in her higher calling of being a serious journalist. She goes out of her way to make everyone around her happy, which runs her ragged. She rants about the things that irritate her at work. Andy is torn between her fierce independence and her desire to pursue her dream, and being responsible for and meeting everyone else’s needs. She is an iconic representation of what happens to nice people in that kind of high-stress work environment: initial resistance, eventual submission, and always on the verge of a mental breakdown.

Being in the midst of that chaotic environment, with a boss who is unreasonable, self-centered, and downright mean to everyone would send me home each day with a stomach ache. I would lie awake all night dreading the reprimands and failures of the subsequent day, but like Andy, would reach a point of being able to foresee problems and head them off, merely to avoid further emotional anxiety. Like Andy, I wouldn’t know how to say “no” to doing the twins’ science project, because saying no would get me fired. I would be continually torn between a desire to quit and leave that stressful environment, and a refusal to admit there is something out there that I just can’t handle.

Andy makes decisions I wouldn’t, but that I can understand under the circumstances; she is likable from the start, but what I like most about her is that in the end, she decides to do what is best for her future life and walk away, before she turns into the person she hates the most: Miranda. Andy goes through a lot of change, something we don’t often see in a comedy; at the end, she is much more self-confident, far more put-together, a fashionable dresser who has found her own style and now trusts her own ability to choose things that look good together, but also back on track toward her initial vision for her life of being a writer. She learns, she faces hard truths about herself (that she is too proud to change), she changes, she makes mistakes, and in many senses, she grows up.

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The Truth About the Fashion Industry

Most of us want to believe the fashion world is glamorous. It isn’t. This movie has the dual quality of shining a light on the hideousness of the behavior of the people involved in high fashion while indulging our senses with gorgeous clothes and expensive items. It asks us to take a brutally honest look behind the scenes and reveals the fashion world not as a glamorous place, but as full of backstabbing, self-important jerks who betray one another with ease in their ruthless competitiveness and ambition. The sad truth is, this isn’t just a movie plot… it’s how the fashion world actually works, much to the horror of some of its classier participants.

Anyone who has ever seen Project Runway is familiar with Tim Gunn, the host and consultant for the designers as they compete for the right to put out a fashion line. I read his book on manners a couple of years ago, and he references the delight he took in viewing this film because he knew who all the characters were “inspired by,” and wondered how close to the truth their thinly disguised impersonations would be. If you think Miranda Priestly makes some truly astounding demands on Andy (such as, get me a flight out of Florida in the middle of a hurricane), read his book. Her “inspiration” is so self-important that once, when others would not accommodate her desire to ride alone in an elevator, her refusal to wait until the party had cleared out inspired her to demand her bodyguards carry her down the stairs… all thirteen floors.

While there are some nice people in the fashion world (Tim Gunn among them, although one could question the “manners” of airing such information to the general public), it’s true that the more accolades and power one receives, the greater the temptation is to abuse that power and become self-important. Miranda makes ridiculous demands because she is used to people catering to her every whim. She never hears “no,” and as such, respects no one in her office… until Andy tosses her phone in the nearest fountain and takes the next plane home. For the first time, Miranda saw someone reject her, and her lifestyle, and decide to pursue a different path. I like that. Miranda will never change, but Andy has her respect – a respect that no one else in Miranda’s life will ever earn. It’s a powerful reminder that those who order us around never respect us; we are only on equal footing when we cease to “placate” and stand up for what is right.

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The Superficiality of Fashion

We all know that models are photo shopped to perfection, and that actresses have magazine covers retouched, but deep down we all hold ourselves to a ridiculously high standard of perfection – just like the girls in Miranda’s office. Nigel says, half snidely but also seriously, that the girls haven’t eaten anything since sizes 2 and 0 became the goal. Emily starves herself to fit into a dress, and says in all seriousness that she doesn’t eat anything and if she feels like she’s going to faint, she eats a piece of cheese. On the surface, that’s funny. Underneath, it isn’t. Tim Gunn said in his book that he hasn’t seen anyone above a certain avenue in New York eat anything more than a half-salad in years.

If I am being brutally honest with myself, I am trying to reach unrealistic standards of beauty. Rather than look in the mirror and see my own potential, I compare myself to the stick-thin, gorgeous actresses on television, with their hair extensions and perfect teeth and flawless skin. I am hideous in comparison. No matter how much I diet, I will never look like Twiggy. No matter how long my hair grows, it will never be that thick and luscious. The “beautiful” people (who often suffer from personality afflictions just like those in the fashion industry) have a team of stylists, dietary consultants, and trainers who work around the clock to make them look good. I only have me.

The strange irony is, every time I watch this film I have a desire to both improve my appearance and am aware of the superficiality of the entire thing; the beautiful characters in this film are only beautiful on the outside. It’s Andy, with her “size 6” backside and uncontrollable fits of emotion, who is the “prettiest” person inside – but only after she succumbs for awhile to that unrealistic lifestyle.

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The Underlining Symbolism

There are many messages contained in this film, both conscious (be careful who you allow to influence your decisions, turning into the thing you hate most, one’s morals can be compromised with enough prodding) and subliminal, but the thing that intrigues me most is the title. “The Devil Wears Prada.” On first glance, we assume it references Miranda. She is self-centered and abusive, and seeks to benefit only herself; Miranda sacrifices Nigel’s future happiness to ensure her own survival in the industry without a second thought. She greatly enjoys getting Andy to sacrifice her principles, by making unreasonable demands and watching her meet every one. Andy unwillingly throws Emily under the proverbial bus in accepting a promotion to the Paris team; she solicits a stolen Harry Potter manuscript ahead of its release date just to keep her job. In that sense, her actions are devilish… but do they really represent the Devil?

What about the deceptively named Christian, whose sole intention throughout his interactions with Andy are to entice her out of her current relationship and into his bed? He assists her in her descent into moral darkness by being the individual who just happens to be able to get his hands on that manuscript. Andy faced a moment of decision – she was about to walk out of her abusive situation, and he offered her a choice that lured her back in to torment and the deconstruction of her morals. That is even more like the Devil… not to force, or coerce, but give us options that will carry us down a dark path.

Or perhaps, the “Devil” is actually the job. “A million girls would kill for your job!” It promises allure, grandeur, and sophistication and instead delivers abuse, misery, and self-hatred. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis implies that the Devil’s greatest pleasure is enticing humans to pursue to excess things that bring them neither fulfillment nor pleasure. Andy idolized a job that made her miserable. In truth, if we focus only on the things of this world, once we achieve them our lives will be empty, much like Miranda’s. On the outside, she professes that “everyone wants to be us,” but her marriage is in shambles, she has two ex-husbands who are barely speaking to her, and she had to blackmail someone to keep her job!

God doesn’t tell us to pursue heavenly treasures because He wants our lives devoid of earthly pleasures, but because He knows that often the things we want the most fail to bring us lasting happiness.

16 Replies to “My Favorite Movies: The Devil Wears Prada”

  1. What I loved most about Devil Wears Prada is that it showed that when you work in art, Work is your life. Nothing else. You cant have a family and have a job in art. The work is life. All in or go work a 9-5. As a wannabe film maker Ive always since childhood held the belief that love and romance only gets in the way of my writing and work. I found Relationships a distraction and I was annoyed nobody else understood you cant be both a career person and a family person. ITS AN either Or. and as a very focused career person I was VERY relieved with this movie for delving into the WHY that is. Why the work is more important to some people than being in love.

    I was sad with Andy’s choice in the end. Tossing career for a boyfriend. But then Im a workaholic obsessed with my job and what I do. I love what I do more than I ever could love someone romantically. Sherlock Holmes in the recent sherlock had stated “I consider myself married to my work” and its very much my same thoughts. I am married to my work. Its my love and my passion and I find anything outside my work just a distraction from what I love doing. Making movies.

    1. Sounds unhealthy to me. Fixating on just one thing, to the exclusion of all else, including your relationships? Where is the balance in life? We need relationships because they keep us healthy. Too much work isn’t good. Working hard is good, but not if you push everything out of your life to accommodate it.

      Andy’s life working for Miranda was neither good nor healthy. She sacrificed her happiness for a job she didn’t even really like in the first place. It changed her in bad ways. She went from being a good-natured girl who never swore and was comfortable with her body to a bitchy, bossy girl who indulged in a one night stand. She constantly compromised her beliefs and values just to make her boss happy. In the end, Andy did not give up her job for her boyfriend. She gave up her job because she saw the person she was becoming, and she hated it. She decided that she did not want to become Miranda — she wanted to become a writer. Nate had nothing to do with it. Andy made her decision based on moral values and her own dreams.

      I’m glad you love your work. That’s good. But being able to take time off and enjoy other people will only help you make better movies.

      1. The job was important for her, and, when she leaves (for the right reason), he thinks it’s for the wrong reasons.

        She does the right thing, thanks him for helping her (and lets him off the hook for not supporting her *at all*), and he rubs it in and ends up more of a self-righteous prick than ever.

  2. Excellent thoughts!! This is a case where the movie is better than the book, too. I don’t remember why, just that I really didn’t like the book nearly as much. And Andy does something even more despicable in the book (to Emily, I believe).

    I really liked Nigel, too. He seemed like a good person in a nasty industry. Not perfect, mind you, but definitely likeable, and he tried to help Andy when no one else cared to.

    Oh, and I’ll be getting Gunn’s book from the library. I’d forgotten he wrote that!

    1. I hated the book. It had no plot other than Andy complaining about her job for 300+ pages. The movie constructed a real plot, with genuine tension, and taught a lesson through it. The HP thing that was such a huge part of Andy’s descent into the dark side? Was ONE PARAGRAPH in the book. Lame. Oh, and the book had f-words out the wazoo. Very not classy.

      Nigel is a sweetheart. Rude at times, but he has a good heart. Poor guy. I don’t think Miranda will ever pay him back.

      Enjoy Gunn’s book! 🙂

      1. Maybe that’s one reason I don’t remember much about the book. I didn’t like it enough to consider it worth remembering.

        I’m sure I will. I haven’t seen Project Runway in years, but I loved Tim Gunn. He was one of my favorite parts of the show.

    1. I hope you enjoy it. I’m not usually a chick flick girl (at least, not modern chick flicks — I’ll eat up costume dramas with reckless abandon) but… this is probably one of my top 10 favorite movies. 🙂

  3. Love this movie. Didn’t see it for many, many years though. Not sure why. But my Dad was teaching one day and they showed this movie during some “free” time and he said it was great. He was not an Anne Hathaway/chick flick fan either. So we watched it and enjoyed it.

  4. This movie equals one of the best EVER despite its more serious messages being hidden under the “fun” scene of the fashion industry. 🙂

  5. I loved that movie, and just like you I wasn’t planning to see it first (must be an infj thing :D). But there is one thing I HATED, it’s her boyfriend. Honestly, I really didn’t understand why she was with him. He wasn’t supporting her, he constantly had critics about her job, I understand that he was used to have her taking care of him and suddenly she wasn’t available, but god, you can warn someone not becoming what they hate the most and not being a jerk at the same time ! Really, the best end for me would have been that she throw away the job AND her boyfriend 😀

    1. I didn’t like Nate either, much. He was nice sometimes, but not consistently and he had zero respect for any of her choices. I can somewhat understand that, because I struggle to be supportive when I see others bending over backward to accommodate people, but still. Honestly, all her friends were jerks. 😛

      1. Nate bothers me because he seems to expect Andy to sacrifice so much of her life for him, yet isn’t willing to give in return. Of course her job would put a strain on their relationship, but I felt that if he really cared for her, he would have tried to understand why it was so important to her.

        (Otherwise, I really enjoyed this movie: I’m working to get into a similarly difficult and small industry, and I empathized with Andy. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂 )

        1. I think part of Nate’s concern is that she is running herself ragged for a woman who doesn’t appreciate her, so he sees the seasonable thing as quitting. Andy has the typical INFJ problem of needing to finish what she starts, and finding it hard to say no. Nate reminds me of people in my life who, at times, get annoyed with me for not leaving a bad or unpleasant relationship. His concern is for Andy’s welfare — however, as you pointed out, there is also a selfish side to it, because Andy is not at home, catering to his every need and offering him constant affirmation.

          Sadly, none of the guys in this movie were all that great. Nate is selfish, and Christian is manipulative. Sigh.

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