The Devil Wears Prada
Directed by David Frankel
PG-13, 119 min., 2006
As I left the theater, I thought, I hated this movie. Yet it was one of the best movies I have seen recently. I hated the movie because it dredged up a lot of feelings about my life experiences. It was one of the best illustrations of the brutality and inhumanity of the capitalist system I have ever seen.
Meryl Streep does a magnificent job of portraying Miranda Priestly, a self-absorbed, arrogant, abusive boss of a fashion magazine. Anne Hathaway does an equally magnificent job of portraying her new hire, Andrea “Andy” Sachs, a bright graduate of Northwestern University who aspires to be a journalist covering labor union activities.
Miranda, who has attained the pinnacle of her organization, is horribly abusive to all the employees, but this is magnified in the case of Andy. She arrives for her job interview with an onion bagel on her breath and working-class clothes. Andy is subjected to horrible humiliation and intimidation by Miranda, which works in the short term. She is told, “A million girls would kill for this job.”
Andy is sucked into this sick system, changes the way she dresses and assesses her competence based on what her abusive master tells her. As she jumps over the head of her abusive supervisor, she keeps repeating, “I had no choice.” Miranda tells her that she did have a choice, and points out, “They all want to live the way we do,” and that’s where the movie gets interesting.
The abuse, intimidation, humiliation and harassment that Andy is subjected to struck a note with me. The inherent abusive nature of capitalist organizations was projected onto the screen for everyone to see. I remembered that I have endured similar situations over and over throughout my career. Many people that I have known believe that this is the only way to run organizations. They subscribe to autocratic rule by a single individual who maintain their power base by keeping their subordinates in a state of fear.
Ironically, the autocratic Miranda is threatened by the owner, who plans to replace her with a younger woman who he believes will bring higher profits. Interestingly, Miranda trumps him by putting together a list of key personnel who signed a letter that they will resign if Miranda leaves. She saves herself by provoking an act of solidarity from the workers.
Other reviews have described the movie as a comedy. My experience felt like a gut-wrenching indictment of the capitalist system. Lingering in my mind was, “Surely we can do better than this.”