Kristen Stewart and the Beyond in Personal Shopper
By Adam Cook
Kristen Stewart’s transformation from the teenaged face of the Twilight franchise to an award-winning actor of international acclaim may seem like it happened overnight. The truth is that her talent and singular screen presence were there from the outset (take a look at 2009’s Adventureland, for example). She has also become a fashion icon, an LGTBQ idol, and has maintained her indifference towards fame and Hollywood throughout her success, often being described as detached or, simply, like she doesn’t give a ****. This has earned her a unique level of fandom and stature in the arthouse world as much as in pop culture. With her first collaboration with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Carlos), Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart held her own opposite Juliette Binoche. Some may argue she did more than hold her own, in fact. The performance won her a Cesar award (the equivalent of the Oscars in France) for Best Supporting Actress. Now Assayas and Stewart have teamed up again with even more fascinating results.
Personal Shopper seems to have been crafted around Kristen Stewart’s enigmatic disposition, both in terms of the character she plays and the overall tone of the film. Assayas understands her quiet, cool demeanor and its mysterious qualities, and mines that for great effect. Stewart plays Maureen, the personal shopper for a high profile German model. She is also a medium who can communicate with the dead. After her twin brother Lewis dies, she tries to reach him in the afterlife. Maureen starts receiving strange texts from an unknown source, and her grip on her life starts to slip as weird things start happening around her.
A ghost story that feels completely removed from genre conventions, Assayas has crafted an arthouse drama that interweaves naturalism and supernaturalism. Eerie, suspenseful, and altogether unusual, Personal Shopper almost defies narrative itself, centering entirely on Stewart’s presence and mood as she navigates this passage of mourning and mystery. Maureen, in spite of her ability to connect with the beyond, is still full of doubt. The death of her brother has left her uncertain about the spirit world, and ultimately about life itself. Stewart internalizes this existential dilemma with reserved urgency. The camera is transfixed by her and the way she looks; the way she moves. This is the ultimate Kristen Stewart film, built from her personality outward, to an insular world of fame, eventually to the real world that surrounds it, and finally even beyond that.