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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Personal Shopper

Grief Is A Ghost


In Personal Shopper, grief is the ghost and you can never really give up the ghost. Personal Shopper follows Maureen (Kristen Stewart) a young woman living in Paris and working as a personal shopper for Kyra Gellman (Nora Waldstatten), an obnoxious celebrity model interested in talking on her phone than to the people around her. Maureen becomes more of an assistant as Kyra’s demands don’t die down. Maureen rides her motorcycle around the city picking up outfits designers have Kyra borrow for events only to face difficulty in getting Kyra to return them later.


In the midst of her professional annoyances, Maureen is also grieving the loss of her twin brother Lewis who died of a genetic heart condition. Both shared a massive interest in spirituality and Lewis promised to send Maureen a sign from the afterlife if he could. As Maureen spends most of her free time alone in the French manor they grew up in, she struggles to make sense of the signs that come her way and senses the clock ticking on her own mortality.


Stewart has always embraced the silence in her work and shows viewers the beauty of being alone. As loud and unbearable as living in the real world can often be, loneliness eventually finds its way into those seeking shelter from the public. Personal Shopper is definitely Stewart’s most lonely performance. She’s more confused than she is depressed and she’s more determined than she is frightened. Personal Shopper is a ghost story but it questions who the ghost really is.


Maureen hears the faucet running and she immediately turns it off. “I need more from you” she insists. She then hears the bathwater running upstairs and she takes her time before turning it off. She also starts receiving anonymous texts from someone refusing to confirm or deny their identity. Desperate for it to be Lewis, Maureen travels all over the city going wherever the texter tells her to go.


Grieving people are taken advantage of every single day but are that what’s happening here? Some things can’t be revealed in words and language is endless. Stewart’s performance starts to become a vessel of sorts for the increasingly troubled Maureen. If Maureen is the ghost… then why is she still here and if grief is the ghost, can she ever move past it?


The music of Personal Shopper is very intense but the film works at its best in those uncomfortable silent moments that Stewart has always been so perfect at. I also admire how the cinematography captured Paris. It’s exquisite and beautiful but it doesn’t make it out to be this fantasy place many Americans have in mind. It reminds me of New York in many ways, the constant comings and goings of people too preoccupied with their phones and their own lives. Being in a city is like being at sea. You have to learn how to navigate the waves yourself and if you can’t adapt to them, the waves will pull you under.


Personal Shopper is ultimately one of the most haunting films about grief I’ve ever seen. Anyone who experienced loss will see something familiar in Maureen who as smart as she is can’t be relied upon to see things clearly. Grief is a mist that comes to stay and when you're grieving, you try to see things as you want them to be. Real-life never vanishes and Maureen’s relentlessness to make contact with her brother is not an end but a beginning.


It's a desperation that comes from love and that’s what will hopefully resonate with viewers the most because loss can’t hurt so hard without that love. Love can kill you but it can also save you. Maybe Maureen will find a way through or perhaps she won’t but it’s what she’s looking for that viewers must pay attention to. We’re all aiming towards that. It’s not something you run from but run to. As it slips further away, your legs start to throb, and your mind races into a full-blown chase. Life is a sweaty running track and I won’t stop running. Not yet.




PERSONAL SHOPPER FANART, Fanart.TV, 2016, https://fanart.tv/movie/340676/personal-shopper/.




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