There is a book named Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Legends of the Wild Woman Archetype. It’s author Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a Jungian psychoanalyst who uses the power of stories and storytelling to revive the lost Wild Woman archetype in the lives of her patients. After twenty five years of studying mythology, folklore and how they have changed over different periods of time around the world, she says, one of the most important changes that stories have undergone in our world is of acquiring simpler plots. The complicated dynamics of greys being replaced by stark and dual blacks and whites. There is exactly one enemy and exactly one hero. There are very simple plots and paths that the legends have now begun to take.
Reading the book that was the inspiration for the movie The Devil Wears Prada, I felt this holds completely true for every other kind of retelling of stories. Althought Ms Estés quoted this to be for the mythologies and folklores, the modern day movie adaptations and TV serial adaptations of books prove the encompassing prescience of her thought even today.
It is said amongst storytellers, as a story runs down multiple storytellers, it acquires the personality of each one of them. Sometimes it is for the good of the story and sometimes not. I think when books are turned into movies, it is a rather bigger challenge to be able to recreate the experience of the written word into the visible, moving medium. The biggest threat that accompanies this failed challenge is of simplifying story in order to ease the transformation.
Simple stories are great. Anything complex, if told simply, is good only as long as it is not affecting the truth of the story itself. Which is why I believe over-simplification is the worst thing that can be done to a good story. And that is what, I believe, has been done in case of The Devil Wears Prada, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name by author,Lauren Weisberger. Although its actress Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for her part, the movie in itself failed to justify the book.
The story was written by its author more like a memoir, it was an ode to the life gone by and the lessons learnt along the way. But the movie ended up turning it into an opportunity to display the fashionable world of the glamour industry with a small flaw of over work and occassional hypocrisy. The layer of the flaws is so thin in the movie that it is shown to be eventually cracked, by the end of the movie, and cracked quite easily for that matter. While the book goes on to show the reality where the whole industry is flawed and misleading to the generations of youngsters around the world.
In order to be able to elaborate further, we will have to talk a bit more about the central plot story.
So Andrea Sachs is your regular geeky girl from a decent college who loves literature and wants to become a writer for the famous magazine The New Yorker. She ends up taking a rather unusual job at a fashion magazine; unusual because she is no where close to world of fashion. But circumstances bring her to taking up a job as the personal assistant of one of fashion industry’s most celebrated fashion editors, Miranda Priestly.
She soon learns that there would be a “million girls who would kill for the job she now has” and decides to do more justice to it. But it soon becomes evident to her that she is inadequate in every way to do so.
Now here is where the plots of the book and the movie begin to fork out on completely separate paths of their own.
While Andy (Andrea) of the book simply goes with the flow and does as much she can to fit into the role bore out for her, the Andy in the movie takes it up as a challenge and somehow transforms herself for the role. The movie-Andy finds herself actually loving her job as she gets brand new clothes to wear, expensive cars to travel in and exotic locations to travel to. But the truth of the book-Andy is that she is actually living life “by the day”. She is struggling to meet the end of each day under her horrendous boss who loves to break those that are around her, in order to feel important and special. She is not having expensive clothes to wear but instead just the lying around fashion of the oversize 16. Our book-Andy is only being taken care of by the company with its left over food-kinda clothes and accessories because they are afraid of Andy’s boss’s anger and they want the boss to be happy with her assisstant.
The book-Andy has almost sold her soul to the devil that is her boss, Miranda. She has troubled relationships with her boyfriend, best friend and her family. While the movie-Andy has been shown to be in perfect control of her choice to take up the challenge of the fashion industry. She just misses her boyfriend’s single birthday party and is caught by her friend as she is flirting with a hot, famous writer.
Movie As A Continued Illusion
In simple terms, the movie is actually an extension of the illusion that the fashion and glamour industry is shown in the book, to extend on the readers of that fashion magazine. The book is trying to bring in a comparison between that illusion and the reality. But the movie is not willing to let go of the clouded mirror of the glitz and glam. So as viewers of the movie we still see that the bitch of the glamour industry is actually a good human being just doing her job. While the book clearly shows her to be a lonely, old woman blinded by the attention, that she has sold her soul to achieve.
But I believe the biggest lie that the movie gives us as consumers of art is what happens to movie-Andy’s love life. Especially since love is at the center of all this drama. It is the reason that teenage girls as well as women in their late forty’s are still movie fans and their favourite stars and stories. These stories more often than not show them a thin ray of hope that somewhere, someone finds true love that is a thing of dreams and fantasies.
Even after treating her long time boyfriend like shit when movie-Andy was out on her little detour into the world of fashion, her one apology sets things straight with her man. It is almost as if nothing happened and everything that she lived in the last one year as a woman who sold her soul to the devil, meant nothing at all. She ends up having a job at the magazine she dreamt of working for, when she first took up the job of working for a fashion magazine. And it is her boss who recommends ehr for the job. All the soul-selling that she does in that one year as the fashion industry slave, ends up in her having her dream job at the recommendation fo the kindly bitch boss, Miranda.
But the truth turns out to be that even after setting things straight and learning her lessons, she does not get to have that normal relationship back. It is not her career that is directly influenced by her one year stunt in a world that was absolutely alien to her. It is her own being that is influenced. She is changed. And in a way that is beyond her understanding. The girl that her longtime boyfriend loved was different from the one she had turned into after that one year. She had hurt him too much in the process of growing up the way she did. And so, in reality, despite loving each other very much, Andy and her guy do not end up together. The book leaves us on a different note. It leaves us where Andy discovers her career.
It is this changed-self that she begins to record in her writings henceforth. She starts out small like all her writer contemporaries. She goes out sharing her documented experiences of the past one year, of the time she was in the Wonderland like Alice. And she gets no big breaks. She, in fact, starts her first baby steps towards her career of becoming a writer. Which is exactly the way it should have been, in the first place.
When you want to do something, you must get on with it. You must not fool yourself or allow the world, and its twisted ways, to fool you into thinking that doing a bunch of random, irrelevant things is somehow going to magically help you do what you want to do. The simple secret discovered is that when you want to get something done, you got to start doing it. Funny how people have to go through so much shit in life to understand this simple fact. This book by Lauren Weisberger is also, essentially, a documentary of how a woman learns this lesson. But the movie is not.
The movie simplifies everything till a point that truth turns into a lie. It shows the movie-Andy sleeping with the man she has come to be attracted to at her workplace. Then she discovers the next morning that he is her beloved bitch boss’s rival and so she ‘realises’ he is not a good guy. Then she tries to warn her beloved bitch boss against him and realises that she is an even greater bitch. Her boss sacrifices a beloved friendship in order to save her position as the boss of the magazine. Then movie-Andy somehow realises this is all wrong and decides to call it quits. “Suddenly” and just like that.
But the truth is documented in the book when the anger with which book-Andy finally snaps back at her scavenger of a boss (in order to save her life and not her boss’s) is shown to build up everyday. Her loved ones and especially her boyfriend make her realise it every single day that she is actually cloning into one of the glamour industry’s zillion soulless clones. Everyday, each day, she is shown to be growing apart from her best friend who is being sucked by alcoholism in her absence. She is growing apart from her family who were there for her when she hit rock bottom in her life. She is growing apart from her lover and best friend because she is no longer available to make conversations with him and share her life with him. And foremost, she is realising it everyday that she is doing nothing at all to push her writing career forward, by fetching coffee for her boss and kissing writers as she finds them. And so she is forced to swing between being a decently obedient (read deluded) assistant and a fiercely critical (read aware) bitch, when on her job. She is swinging in between being loved and being hated by those around her int he fashion industry.
And it is this swinging back and forth that finally causes her melt down one fine day. Her friend, her beloved best friend since childhood, has been in an accident. And her bitch boss is too busy pissing everyone around her, to notice it at all. She cannot leave her boss to go sit by her best friend. Above it all book-Andy is then faced with another one of her boss’s impossible tasks to fulfil. That is the moment when she breaks down. Mind you, she does not break down when she realises that her bitch boss is being wronged by an attractive male writer with influential contacts. Her sanity snaps when she realises that she is but a doll to this industry which is fueled by its clothes and make up. She is being expected to slog all around as and when she is keyed by her boss. And this, she is supposed to do while continuously being in awe of the very people that have held her enslaved!
This is what snaps her out of the delusion. And not what they show in the movie. Which is just an extension of the delusion. It is amazing how different a story becomes just by falling through the hands of a few dozens of people. Imagine how distorted the stories that have been passed down to us by millions of people, really is? The stories told in the name of God and of certain men and women who were seen as Gods or God-like. Imagine how much would they all be different now, from their original formats. And how we tend to live our lives everyday based on these stories without sparing a minute of quality analysis of these stories.
The people who made the movie Devil Wears Prada had the brands to and corporations to answer if they chose to go by the book’s sketch of what the industry was on the inside. So they chose to slightly twist the plot to please everyone involved. But imagine what big a twist men can bring to the stories sitting at the hearts of civilisations, especially those men that are endorsing brands of their own. Brands like power and money.
So what we learn today is that before we come to indentify with these stories about our heroes or our Gods, we need to pause adn reflect on their possible truths. We need to question and analyse them. This is not against faith in any manner. Logical analysis of our faiths and beliefs and also our stories will only deepen our faiths. Because it will bring us to the truth that still lingers in the twisted stories. It is an ongiong process and we need to understand that. There is no absolute truth that we can take from another person. If ever there is an absolute truth, it must come from within ourselves. Until that happens, we need to continuously stay in alert analysis of the stories we are fed by the world (friends, family, community, country), in order to stay on the path of truth.
There was yet another longish analysis of the movie Devil Wears Prada starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep. Here is what I am trying these days with the stories that I pick up to analyse. I try to look for their inspirations and their roots as part of my research into the intentions fo the people telling the story and what the story has to teach. Do let me know what do you think about this rant and comment below if you would like to read more about any other particular story.
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