Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012.08.21 — The Devil Wears Prada: A Ten Bulls Review

The Devil's in the Details, and She also Wears Prada.
M and Al, two people I respect in Goodreads, the book-biased social networking site, panned this movie. M was mostly ambivalent, seeing in it some positives, but finding it not to his taste. Al dissed it quite harshly. I was surprised, because I actually like it enough to have watched it more than once. On 2012.08.18, this is what we wrote:
Al: mm, I just experienced a fushigi moment. I walked downstairs and my mother was watching The Devil Wears Prada. Guy just mentioned that movie not long ago and then I walked back upstairs went back on GR and saw the book in my recommendations. How strange.
I hope the book is better than the movie.

I confess to enjoying The Devil Wears Prada movie. And not because it is a 'good' movie, because I doubt very much that it is. I enjoyed it in part because it is a guilty pleasure. And it is a guilty pleasure because it is in a very curious way, a western hyper-stylized version of The Ten Ox Herding Songs of Zen Buddhism, A.K.A The Ten Bulls! LoL! It's funny, I didn't think of that until I tried to figure out why it was I liked it.


The Devil Wears Prada isn’t my kind of movie, though I think it’s very well, and very expensively, done. I don’t feel that I know Andrea or Miranda or Emily much better at the end of the movie than I did at the beginning. The movie is loaded with atmosphere, a sense of place, but a kind I find offputting. The music in the movie is a complete turn-off for me—though I think it’s perfect for the movie.
And so it was that I began with a peculiar thought. What made that thought even more peculiar is that when I began to examine it more closely, it is actually a pretty strong link. Here is what I wrote:
Re Prada I find your comment interesting because you are correct and, I think, not. [I was going to make a quick and oh-so clever comment, but as I started writing it my ideas and connections continued to expand and multiply. So…]

Here's the Ox Herding Songs thing that I see in the movie:
Andy (played by Anne Hathaway) begins the journey with a strong identity of her place in the world. She (with the ostensibly masculine name) is a journalist, a documentarian of the 'real' world. And that real world demands she soil herself in the grime of money acquisition and its challenges to identity. When she is first faced with its challenge, she rejects it as being beneath her — her contempt for the fashion industry and those who profit from it. This is the first hypocrisy of Andy as the seeker of truth: her morals have given her the arrogance to be able to predetermine where the truth of the 'real' world can and cannot reside. This is an example of the classic Taoist problem of where the Tao does and does not reside: the mind, dazzled by its glittering truths and moral edicts, believes in demarcations and separations that do not in real reality really exist. [LoL at that sentence.]

Fortunately, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Her hypocrisy is challenged by Nigel (played by Stanley Tucci). 'You haven't tried, not really,' he tells her, 'so don't cry to me about how badly Miranda is treating you. If you want her respect, you need to respect your place here.' [That's a paraphrase, of course.] Slap! She is awakened to her hypocrisy, and moves into the fashion world fully. With skill and focus, she learns a new truth and rises to the top of the industry. But typical of all truth acquisition, she has in the process replaced her other truths with it without being aware of that change. Her other real world keeps reminding her of where she is from, and how far she has moved from it. She doesn't see it, so blind has she become to her new truth, which is to become fully one with the world — of fashion.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. This time from Miranda (played by Meryl Streep), who slaps Andy with the truth of her journey. And so Andy leaves that world, the 'real' world, and applies for a job at a 'real' magazine. LoL. This scene transforms Miranda from being a mere puppet in her world, to a fully aware participant. She doesn't change or grow, but with the end we become aware of her self-awareness. We may not agree with it, but she has made a conscious choice to be, to embrace, her nature. In fact, without that self-awareness she would not have been able to teach Andy in the end and return her to her self with enlightenment.

So, what we see in Andy is the journey of the young idealist, who leaves her ideals to join the grimy world, and then move back to her ideals, but now with the acquisition of real-world wisdom.

Emily (played by Emily Blunt) remains unchanged and, we see, largely without self-awareness. The hope that she will change is when Andy gives her the clothes without expectation of anything return. In Emily's world view, such 'exchanges' are unheard of because there are no free gifts. That is what I call planting a seed of doubt about the 'reality' of one's beliefs. Furthermore, the gift of clothes is a confirmation of Andy's spiritual growth: she is a part of the real world but apart from the real world at the same time.

I'll paraphrase and shorten the ten songs (or bulls as they are also known).

Here is the journey to one's Self:

   1) seeking for truth because of ignorance/hypocrisy;
   2) discovery of a path towards it (or a) truth;
   3) finding what you think is the truth because vision is too small to understand you haven't yet;
   4-7) struggle with that truth (Miranda/boyfriend, Emily/co-worker loyalty, etc.)
   8) Find the various faces of the truth.
   9) Rediscovery of self.
10) Return to the world.

Amusingly enough, even the name of the movie is a gesture towards this path: the devil is the archetypal energy of carnal physicality. The devil is what keeps us mired in the real world. And, it is only in embracing the physical world fully, that the truth of our spiritual connection to it can be made. The shoe is often a dream symbol of 'understanding' because it holds up our feet. It also represents the intellectual (man-made) separation or gap between our soles/souls and our being grounded in the real world. The shoe may epitomize the fashion world, and also the crippling of feminine (anima) understanding: highly stylized, expensive, hobbling and, if kept on too long, ultimately crippling.

Sorry to have gone on so long, but as soon as I started thinking about this, more and more of the ideas and connections came into my consciousness. And yikes! This sounds so pompous. Sorry about that.

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