Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Devil Wears a Crucifix

Aside from leaving that ingratiating KT Tunstall song in my head, “The Devil Wears Prada” left little for me to chew on. Critics have lauded Meryl Streep for her performance, though I fail to see how simply being a heinous bitch is that difficult makes for that difficult of a role. I’ve lived and worked with people who did as good of a job, and no one nominated them for any award. Anne Hathaway, as I suspected, played a likable, plucky heroine, though I secretly wished her character’s transformation from a drab nobody to a fashionista could have included some wardrobe selections from her “Brokeback Mountain” character. In all, decent but not especially memorable.

However, as I often do after I see a movie, read a book, hear a name, think a thought or eat a sandwich, I eventually crawled over to the related Wikipedia entry. This gave me something wonderful for my English major brain to work with. The two main characters in the book and the film, Andrea Sachs and Miranda Priestly, both seem to be non-Jewish Jews. No, not in the George Constanza way, in which he and his family exhibit all the traits of a stereotypical Jew save for the fact that they are actually Italian Catholic. In a backstory thing that is apparently explained more in the novel The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea comes from a Jewish family. Her surname, after all, is “Sachs.” Her family, however, does not apparently practice any Jewish traditions. Furthermore, one of the story elements dropped in the film version of the story indicated that Miranda Priestly was raised Jewish, with the last name “Princhek,” but revised her personal history to fit in better with the WASPy types she’d be working alongside in the fashion industry. Most notably, her chosen surname is “Priestly,” which has more Christian meaning than I initially thought about.

The Wikipedia article further states that, at one point in the novel, Andrea evokes her Jewish identity by considering walking backwards from Wintour’s office in the manner that faithful Jews apparently move away from the Wailing Wall. Perhaps most provocatively, the article notes that the character who romances Andrea and threatens to lead her permanently into the world of high fashion — and thus, away from her roots — is named “Christian.”

In the end, all this religious-themed speculation into the novel and the film yields a different reading of their shared title. Upon casual reading, "The Devil Wears Prada" — or, to be nitpicky, The Devil Wears Prada as well — seems to name a devil in the casual since, as in "Oh, you devil!" or something benign like that. The devil in question initially appears to be one that is only capitalized by virtue of being in a title. However, these Judeo-Christian elements combine to provide an alternate reading that may indicate the other kind: the devil with a capital "D."

This, to me, is very interesting, since I nearly dismissed this film as fluff. That’s not to say that it isn’t fluff, really, but it at least has a cleverly embedded theme that I did not pick up on my own. A little subversive, too. Does “The Devil Wears Prada” suggest a correlation between Christianity and commercialism? Or is it simply that becoming accepted by elite society forces you to abandon any non-mainstream qualities?

It’s something, anyway.

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