The Devil Wears Prada — a Straussian interpretation

by on July 2, 2006 at 6:04 pm in Film | Permalink

Beneath the fold are many spoilers, proceed at your peril, but Nietzsche would have loved this film...

Imagine a beautiful, pseudo-nerdy and ultimately devious Anne Hathaway [Andy] receiving a job at a top fashion magazine, more or less by accident.  At first she is baffled and fails but soon she is dressing up to fit the role and climbing the ladder of social success, ruthlessly at times.  Her model and mentor is Miranda, the magazine’s editor, an empire-builder played by a commanding and sexier-than-ever Meryl Streep.  Andy is transformed by a taste of success and she abandons her boyfriend, friends, and father in her Hegelian quest to command the obedience of others.

Of course Andy is troubled along the way.  After all, but a few months ago she was editing the school newspaper at Northwestern and wearing frumpy (but oh so cute, to my eyes) sweaters.  I much prefer her size six to her later size four, and yes women really do look better without make-up.

The key moment and emotional center of the movie comes when Miranda [Meryl Streep] tells Andy [Anne Hathaway] that, contrary to her initial expectations, Andy reminds her very much of herself.  Andy runs out of the cab, supposedly rejecting the life of obsessive careerism, for [get this] a [low stress?] career of journalism. 

But does she reject the life of the Uebermensch?  Andy had distanced herself from her hot but low-status boyfriend.  She never gets back together with him, and we learn that they will live in separate cities.  We never see her boring loser friends again.  She had been rude to her dull dad [from Ohio] and is never seen making amends.  Wouldn’t a cornier movie have closed with a fading shot of Andy on the phone, smiling and saying "Hi, Dad, Happy Birthday!  I Love You!"  But this never happens.  She is too hard at work on her next feature story. 

In fact Andy is an irresistible She-Demon, every bit as powerful as the mentor she turned her back on.  Andy didn’t so much scorn Miranda as mimic her and pay homage to her.  Miranda [Meryl Streep] was right (is she ever wrong?): Andy is strong enough to be her own leader and build her own world.  That is why Andy had to leave the realm of Miranda; it was not big enough to fit two such ravenous and yes extremely sexy women.  If Camille Paglia reviewed this movie, she would find occasion to use the words "Gorgon" and "autochthonous."

Andy even rejects the famous free-lance writer ("Christian") whom she sleeps with for kicks ("I’ve run out of excuses" she says) and then unceremoniously abandons — "I’m not your baby!"  Having sniffed out her own capabilities, she is no longer content to play second fiddle in a relationship, no matter how handsome or successful the man.  She also tells this guy just how much she admires Miranda — Andy is quite sincere — and notes that Miranda’s behavior would be found totally acceptable and indeed admirable in a man.

And the poor little British girl Andy screwed over (and caused to be run over by a car, I might add, check the movie’s title) during her rise at the magazine?  She buys her off with a set of new clothes from Paris.  How Kantian of her.

Make no mistake about it, this is a movie about sheer power lust.  It is a movie of how that lust can be cloaked or shifted to another sphere but never denied.  Never bottled up.  Never stopped.  It is a delicious tale of social intrigue, ambition, class, and how much clothes really do matter.  And to take sweet Anne Hathaway — remember the wonderful but underrated Ella Enchanted?– and have her play Max Stirner — that is a mark of genius.

The movie has many other fine points, most of which were neglected by the film’s intended demographic.  Here is Michael Blowhard on Anne Hathaway.  Here is Wikipedia on the movie.

Here is my earlier post, a Straussian reading of Star Wars.  What will be next?

1 MattF July 2, 2006 at 8:27 pm

I’m persuaded. And that fatherly-looking editor who hired Andy at the ‘New York Mirror’? Toast.

2 CK July 4, 2006 at 12:54 am

It’s cerulean; and all that leads up to that sweater being in that off-price rack at Walmart.
Streep gives an oscar level performance again.

3 Ken Houghton July 4, 2006 at 11:41 pm

That’s a knock-off at Casual Corner (memory serving; not the Behemoth of Bentonville, at the very least), CK (Dexter-Ward?), thank you very much.

When they film the sequel, Hathaway will be traveling with Ms. Rivoli (playing herslef) into the wilds of Texas and beyond. And probably (spoiler alert) get shot dead for her troubles, leaving that Chef from Entourage to commit “suicide” via eight bullets, none from his own gun.

4 Kathleen Fasanella July 5, 2006 at 10:39 pm

I don’t agree that Andi screwed Emily; it was her job to relay the bad news. Furthermore, she didn’t even get the chance to get the words out by the time Emily got hit by the car.

I thought Andi and her friends were arrogant and judgmental. Andi felt her job was beneath her. Any employer is entitled to honest effort from employees. If the job is beneath you, leave. Andi’s friends described her as a sell out for dressing the part. This is expected as part of *any* job. If you worked in a bank, you’d have to wear a suit.

There’s no denying it, working in fashion is hell, the hours are incredibly demanding, the deadlines never end and consumers are fickle but Miranda was not asking Andi to put in more hours than she herself was putting in. If anything, Andi was unprofessional (quit her job without notice) and if Miranda was as evil as depicted, she wouldn’t have given her a good job recommendation. Regarding pay, fashion is not well paid (the average designer only makes $40,000 a year) so an assistant to a fashion editor is going to make a whole lot less. It’s a lot of hours and no money. You only do it if you love it so much you can’t see yourself doing anything else.

The cattiness in the film is contrived. In real life, only amateurs act like that. I haven’t seen cattiness like that since I was in design school. In real life, acting like that would get you thrown out on your butt.

oh, and in real life? We dress terribly. Far worse than the average person. The shoemakers children have no shoes.

The last thing is that nobody was smoking. In real life, everybody smokes. I don’t think I saw anybody smoking in the whole movie. In real life, there’d be ashtrays everywhere. SO reminded me tonight that Yves San Laurent smoked 7 packs a day…

5 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 1:49 am

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