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.
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.
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.
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.
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.