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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Maureen lives in a world of ghosts and monsters.

As a medium—someone attuned to forces and things beyond understanding—she often seeks out the spiritual entities for pleasure, for profit and sometimes for deeply personal reasons, too. They're around us always, she says … even if she's not completely sure what they actually are. "Whether they're the souls of the dead, I don't know," she admits.

Her twin brother, Lewis, shared this dubious gift. He was more positive that the inexplicable things he saw and heard were proof of life after death, a world beyond. Now he's in that world himself, if there is one—stolen from the living by a heart condition that Maureen has as well.

"We made this oath," she confesses to someone. "Whoever died first would send the other a sign." And so Maureen waits in Paris, where he lived and she lives. She searches. She pleads to the empty air for a sign, a word, a gesture, that would confirm that dead Lewis is still out there. Somewhere.

The monsters, on the other hand, are often very much in the land of the living. Maureen works for one—the demanding fashion celeb Kyra. They rarely speak: Kyra gives directions via sticky note and text. Pick up those leather pants. Choose a camisole for me to wear next weekend. Be a dear and update my computer, would you? Maureen's waking days are spent rushing from designer to designer, from jeweler to photographer, apologizing for her boss along the way. Sorry, Kyra decided to keep the pants … yes, I know I promised you'd get them back. Or, *Yes, I know she's an hour late. She'll be here soon …

*Then one night at her brother's old house, trying to determine from the new owners whether the place is "haunted" or not, Maureen feels a presence—a malevolent spirit. It turns on faucets, carves a cross on a table and finally materializes in front of her. "You're not my brother," she tells it. "You're not my brother." Out of its mouth pours a river of ectoplasm. And then it vanishes. Maureen runs away, terrified.

Soon after, the texts begin.

"I know you," the first says.

The second: "You know me."

The messages go on, and Maureen slowly feels a chill crawling over her.

"R u real?" she asks.

Nothing.

"R u alive or dead?" she texts.

No answer.

"Alive or dead??"

Nothing.

"Lewis?"

Maureen lives in a world of ghosts and monsters. Perhaps one of them is texting her. But which one is it?

Positive Elements

It's hard to applaud much of what anyone does here. Maureen is about the only character we're supposed to feel any level of sympathy for. But while she's smart and likeable and vulnerable, the only time she actually does something "good" is when she rightly reports a murder to the police and, perhaps, helps them catch the culprit.

Spiritual Content

As you've likely surmised, Personal Shopper is all about spiritual content—though we should not mistake that for Christian content. While a spirit does seem to mark a rudimentary cross on the wall, it's hardly a statement of orthodoxy.

We see apparent spirits turn on faucets, hold and knock over glasses and perhaps use elevators. Sometimes we even see these spirits. Maureen researches some spiritualists of the past. One painter she studies claims to have gotten messages about what to paint from the dead. (That artist's work presaged modern art by several decades, it's said.) Maureen watches an old movie about poet and novelist Victor Hugo, also a well-known spiritualist, and we see him leading séances. ("I am the breath of god," one spirit seems to say in the Hugo movie. "I am the instigator of bad dreams.") Maureen learns a form of tapping communication from Hugo's methods. We hear that there are "two aspects to the heavens: sun and souls." We hear that a historical spiritualist allegedly connected with figures from the Bible.

Others wonder about the nature of the spirit world. One man (who's begun seeing Lewis's now-widowed wife) tells Maureen, "Many religions believe the soul wanders around for a while before leaving this world." He says that he can feel Lewis's presence. ("That might be your guilt talking," Maureen gently suggests.) Maureen's boyfriend, working in faraway Oman, tells Maureen that life after death is an illusion.

[Spoiler Warning] In the final scene of the movie, Maureen has fled Paris and has just arrived in Oman to spend time with her boyfriend. There, she seems to get that sign from Lewis that she's been waiting for. She asks him questions, and he seems to knock in reply. But some of his answers seem odd. "I don't know you," she tells the air. "Lewis, is it you?" she asks again. "Or is it just me?" She hears one knock—yes.

Sexual Content

Two scenes, one of them fairly lengthy, picture Maureen topless. In one, she's wearing only skimpy underwear as she tries on her boss's clothes and what appears to be some kind of BDSM gear that goes around her bare torso. There's also a masturbation scene in which it's clear what she's doing, but the camera avoids any more nudity.

Maureen's strange, disturbing relationship with her mysterious texter eventually grows creepily sexual. The relationship (such as it is) is hinged on elements of the forbidden. And as Maureen tells her suitor, "No desire if it's not forbidden."

The relationship takes on provocative overtones early in the film, when Maureen asks during their first text conversation if she's communicating with a man or a woman. "What difference does it make?" the texter responds.

As they chat, Maureen seems to turn into a shy-but-curious schoolgirl. She understands this communication is wrong, but she's too intrigued, too excited to stop. It's the texter who encourages Maureen to take the next forbidden step: trying on Kyra's clothes, something deeply transgressive in their working relationship. Just the fact that Kyra forbids Maureen to try on her clothes, naturally, makes those clothes all the more enticing. The texter eventually rents a hotel room for Maureen—a place in which she can try on more of Kyra's clothes—and asks Maureen to text him a picture of herself in a shimmery, backless gown.

"I prefer you like this," the texter says.

"I feel ridiculous," Maureen says. "I don't know why I came."

"Keep the key," the texter cautions, like a lover conscious of his or her allure. "You'll be coming back."

Elsewhere, Maureen meets Kyra's ex-lover, Hugo. Kyra, worried that her husband will discover the affair, apparently ended the relationship, but Hugo confesses to Maureen that he wants to keep it going.

"Are you in love with her?"

"Love?" Hugo says, amused. "No. Never crossed my mind."

Violent Content

Maureen walks in on a horrific murder scene, one in which blood covers the walls, pools on bedsheets and stains the floor. The victim's body lies on the bathroom floor.

After Maureen discovers the body and she goes to the police, the texter contacts her again. "Did you tell the cops about my texts?" it says. "ANSWER ME."

Maureen describes the ghost she sees as, "Really angry. Very violent."

Crude or Profane Language

At least eight f-words, along with three s-words. We also hear "h---," "a--" and a crass word for the male anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Maureen drinks quite a bit—sometimes beer, sometimes vodka poured straight from the bottle. She smokes, too, as do other characters.

Other Negative Elements

None.

Conclusion

Personal Shopper gives us a ghost story unlike any I've seen. Less a horror film than a moody, sensual thriller, the film delves into realms of the bizarre and forbidden, dreamily following Kristen Stewart's Maureen through the streets of Paris and deeper into her own personal rabbit hole.

The film has drawn critical raves and cemented Stewart as one of the era's best indie-flick actresses around. (As someone who reviewed some of her Twilight movies, it feels very strange to write that).

But all due acting props aside, Personal Shopper's a bit of a mess. It's not just the nudity here that gives us pause. It's not just the unorthodox spirituality that pervades the film from beginning to end. Or the fact that the movie seems to reject the idea of organized religion even as it embraces one bizarre form of spirituality after another. No, it's the film's obsession with sex and spirit—and the taboo, transgressive relationship between them—that makes it so unsettling.

It doesn't feel quite that corrupt, of course. But director Olivier Assayas definitely wants us to feel the unease of Maureen's obsession with the forbidden—to slip into her surreptitiously borrowed shoes and feel the thrill as she zips up someone else's dress, modeling for—the film wants us to believe—a nearby ghost.

Just as Maureen's world seems to straddle life and death, Personal Shopper is a movie made on the borders of propriety and the profane, embracing the secret, dark thrill of smoking in the junior high bathroom or fooling around on your own parents' bed. And while Personal Shopper reminds us that pleasures forbidden are often forbidden for a reason, it's more concerned with reminding us that they can feel pleasurable. "No desire if not forbidden," Maureen texts. And that might lead some viewers down dangerous rabbit holes of their own.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright; Lars Eidinger as Ingo; Sigrid Bouaziz as Lara; Anders Danielsen Lie as Erwin; Ty Olwin as Gary; Hammou Graïa as the Police Officer; Nora von Waldstätten as Kyra

Director

Olivier Assayas ( )

Distributor

CG Cinema

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 10, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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