“Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice” – George Jackson
From the beginning of this seemingly frothy chick-flick, our protagonist Andrea (affectionately known as Andy and played fantastically well by Anne Hathaway) is a recent graduate of Northwestern University, studying Law. She rejects an offer from Stanford Law School in order to pursue a career in journalism and, for the hell of it, applies for the position of second assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep, formidably good as ever). Despite her holy name, Priestly is the most ruthless and powerful entity in the fashion industry, working as part of Runway magazine. The parallels between Runway and Vogue are vast, but of course, the producers of The Devil Wears Prada keep the comparisons coming as fast as possible without the possibility of a slander case.
The most philosophical aspects of The Devil Wears Prada are as such: maintaining personal integrity, strength and the art of balancing your pride. The problem with learning in a new environment is that it can, or – most likely – will change you. Learning to accept this change within yourself, especially if it is a morph into something you dislike, is one of the most difficult things we can face in our lifetime. This is exactly the case with Andy; attempting to steer her life another direction at such a crucial stage in her life, she decides to step into what she can genuinely call the unknown; the fashion world.
Many of the themes that arise in The Devil Wears Prada are of the Self – its change (as we’ve touched upon), the boundaries of sacrifice, and how far one can go before losing oneself altogether. And, are there circumstances in which these sacrifices, these personality changes can be accepted?
In Andy’s case, her entirely narrow-minded and outrageously demanding boss Priestly is at the centre of Andy’s change. I understand the need to do one’s job and do it to the highest possible standard. It becomes a problem when we attempt to reconcile the boundary between giving your all to your work life and your work life being your all. Instead of it being an aspect of your life – for, of course, your life is the most important thing you have – your work is at risk of becoming your life.
“Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.”
Andy has a wonderfully disarming personality. Rosy, idealistic and simply a bit of a bumpkin, she begins her journey with very little vanity. Contrasted with some cuts and montages of other unknown women around New York City, the opening of the film relays that Andrea cares only about her journalism portfolio, grabbing breakfast (a hearty onion bagel) and kissing her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) goodbye. The other women take time to apply mascara, no doubt a designer lipstick (Andy smears on some Chapstick), equally pretentious accessories and are on their way to begin their City lives.
“A million girls would kill for this job. You work a year for [Priestly] and you can get a job at any magazine you want.”
Working as a second assistant for Priestly, Andy is at first idealistic but not naive: her commitment and dedication to her poorly paid and under-rewarding job is remarkable. She does her best simply because it is her work ethic. Of course, because she knows nothing about fashion or who Priestly is, even, she is unable to apply her best to the requirements of her role – order such and such an item from this fashion house, spell Gabbana, dress in these, don’t wear those, etc. This is where her ambiguous transformation comes in.
I say her transformation is ambiguous because it signalled a new level of commitment from Andy – looking the part of a fashion assistant to impress her boss – or, a new Andy altogether. This Andy is immediately more confident, self-aware and, finds herself applying mascara like the other City girls mentioned at the beginning of this review; her concerns become micro as opposed to macro, as they were before she began at Runway.
The depiction of the “Dragon Lady” Priestly is, of course, a delicious indulgence for the (let’s not forget) chick-flick that it is. The fashion icon, guru and self-styled “creator” of the world’s fashion beacon is revered and feared. It is this fear I find troubling.
“[Priestly] is not happy unless everyone around her is either panicked, nauseous or suicidal”
With hard work and perseverance, one becomes a person deserving of great admiration and respect; Priestly, and countless other people in our world take this respect and take it to a plain which I cannot tolerate. Entitlement.
“When [one] shows up with an attitude of entitlement, understand that under it is a boatload of anxiety” – Robert Evans
“Yes, that’s what this multi-billion dollar industry is about. Inner beauty [laughs].”
A sense of entitlement in those who feel they are superior to us leads them to behave with such disrespect and outright rudeness, that we retaliate. This was especially the case for me, where I had to work under an incredibly demanding and unreasonable superior and had to simply learn to adapt to them. It was difficult for me to ignore my sense of right and wrong, my pride, and worst of all, my instinct. But, for the good of our working environment, I simply kept quiet. At the time, I knew what was happening and the things I was being taught were problematic and frankly wrong; on hindsight, I know I was right. But those situations allowed me to learn and only further my thresholds and tolerance for such ignorance. When I was vocal about the misgivings, the anomalies, and when they were just being unfair, I was berated entirely for it. I was reminded to keep in mind the hierarchal order in which I was always inferior.
“Entitlement…is rather frightening and threatening to have others ascribe such importance to something you know you’re just renting for a while” – Candice Bergen
Andy, through the abandonment and lack of understanding from those closest to her, learns that on her own, she is the most powerful person in her life – not Priestly. As she “grows” (I say grows with quotation marks because Andy becomes another person, see above for her transformation), Andy loses a part of herself but in the end, through her ability to realise her old Self, understands that she can accept her old Self and incorporate aspects of this new Self.Andy, because of her commitment to her work which has simply become her life, is at risk of losing her boyfriend and her best friends. Despite their blatant lack of understanding and masked selfishness (they believe their concern is for Andy, but it’s also their inability to adjust with Andy’s new lifestyle and of course, where they squeeze into it), they come to realise that Andy is in a stage of her life where change and evolution are paramount; keeping things in the same routine is simply not viable.
“Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness”
- Special mention to Emily Blunt as the hilarious and pitiful first assistant also called Emily. She completed the film for me.
- Despite being a chick-flick The Devil Wears Prada is a remarkably interesting study into the compromises that modern working women make on a daily basis. Lots of discussions to be had with this one.
- The humanising of Priestly, though predictable, was a touching look into the dangers of committing to what may be (dare I say) the wrong thing.
- The reasons as to why Andy’s friends misunderstood everything could have been made clearer, but this was only a minor.
As a film, The Devil Wears Prada raises some fundamental questions about the difference between facing our limits and compromising ourselves entirely for something we’re not even sure we want.
“What if I don’t want to live the way you live?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”
Of course, everything is an opportunity to learn and grow, but what if it’s an evolution into something you never wanted to be? How far can you allow your sense of pride, self-worth and integrity to go before someone takes advantage of you? Andrea’s greatest lesson, and ours, as the credits roll is this:
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits” – Albert Einstein.