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Personal Shopper is a graceful meditation on technology and its discontents

Apr. 11, 2017
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Personal Shopper is Kristen Stewart in peak Kristen Stewart form. In a horror flick that is more hipster vacation than waking nightmare, Maureen Cartwright (played by Kristen Stewart) is part assistant to a Kardashian-like celebrity, part spiritual medium, and fully dreamy. Suffering from the loss of her twin brother, Maureen is working--or waiting, rather--in Paris; by day she zips from one fashion house to the next, picking up vintage Gucci bags, Cartier jewelry, and one-of-a-kind dresses. By night, Maureen waits patiently for the spirit of her brother to make contact with her, per an agreement they had made before his passing. When a mysterious entity makes unsettling contact with her, Maureen’s spiritual abilities begin to cause her to lose touch with reality. 

Personal Shopper is Kristen Stewart's second Oliver Assayas-directed film, following up Clouds of Sils Maria from 2014. While she is often criticised for her uninterested acting, the role of Maureen plays to her apparent capabilities as an actress with undeniable depth. As a twenty-something struggling to find herself, her whispered dialogue and hesitant demeanor makes her lonely outsider role believable. In fact, her voice raises above a whisper only once during this slow-paced thriller. 

For a ghost flick, there are surprisingly few supernatural instances in Personal Shopper. The real fear comes in the form of a text message. As soon as Maureen’s phone starts buzz-buzzing, the movie gets serious. From that point, the fear ratchets up quickly, turning something as simple as a conversation between Maureen and an unknown number into a gripping situation. 

What Personal Shopper has done is make a soul-sucking phantom out of the blue light coming from our iPhones. This blue light forces Maureen deeper into loneliness and only causes her grief. Strangely, though, she accepts her fate as she falls further and further away from reality, plugging away at her phone, even sending a selfie to the unknown number. Technology is what haunts Maureen, and only when she is forced to put her iPhone down does she return to the real world. 

Personal Shopper comments on technology, celebrity obsession, interpersonal relationships, mental health, and spirituality with grace. Every shot has purpose and emotion. While the film does include all the tropes of a modern psych thriller, none of the subplots feel like fluff but rather like complete storylines in their own right, making this film unclassifiable as any one genre. This is an excellently-woven story that leaves you interested until the very end.