I just watched The Devil Wears Prada, and though it’s undoubtedly entertaining throughout, there’s one scene which I thought made the film as a whole memorable beyond the stellar performances involved. With me knowing nothing about this film going in aside from Meryl Streep’s performance, this scene was a wonderfully pleasant surprise.
Scene Comes From: The Devil Wears Prada
Written By: Aline Brosh Mckenna
This occurs in the film’s final act. Andy has just learned that her boss, Miranda, is going to be fired from her position as editor-in-chief of a mega famous fashion magazine. Her friend/coworker, Nigel, is supposed to get a promotion that would land him as a boss of the magazine’s newest fashion partner. They are at an annual event which celebrates the magazine.
- Andy wants to help Miranda keep her job
- Nigel wants a promotion
- Miranda will do what she can to keep her job, no matter what
(Normally I do it beat by beat, but since this scene largely exists on a mound of context, it’s easier to write it out as a synopsis)
Andy has just revealed to Miranda that the CEO is planning to fire her. Surprisingly, Miranda is unfazed. Within the ceremony, Nigel introduces Miranda to the stage after effusing her with praise. Miranda takes the stage with a quiet grace and thanks the crowd. She congratulates their newest business partner, James Holt International, for their moves towards massive growth. She says she has some news to share, and begins to talk about how the James Holt brand is going to need a new president. She continues on as Nigel readies himself to stand, when… she announces that the promotion which Nigel was promised is going to the woman who was going to take her job! Andy and Nigel immediately realize that Miranda has betrayed them in order to save her own job. They remain quiet and applaud with the crowd. Nigel says to Andy that Miranda will make it up to him, but expresses that, deep down, he knows she won’t.
Why It Works:
Hurting What We Love: Nigel has been consistently lovable throughout the film, and despite his role as an insider in this egoistic industry, he’s been the only one to treat Andy with genuinely helpful advice. On top of this, we just saw a scene where he was ridiculously excited about his assumed promotion, ironically because it meant he would be his own boss. So when his current boss, Miranda, is the one who stops him from this goal, it feels all the more brutal. By making Nigel the last person who deserves this kind of betrayal, we are immediately set back against Miranda- just like our protagonist, Andy.
From Victim to Monster: Just a few scenes earlier, we saw Miranda, for maybe the first time, as a human. Not as a mercilessly cruel boss, but as a woman struggling with yet another divorce, concerned for her children and afraid of how the world will portray her. The writer chooses to make Miranda vulnerable right before she commits her cruelest action, and thus the betrayal hits us just as hard as it hits Andy and Nigel. By affording the antagonist just a moment of human reflection, we’re brought to believe that she just might be willing to redeem herself, only to find that, like so much of the fashion industry’s leaders, she exists entirely for self preservation.
Subverting Expectation: Another set-up that is paid off in this scene is in how, going directly into this scene, we’re expecting Miranda to announce her resignation as a result of the CEO’s pressure. The entire scene, right up until she announces the change in position, is filled with a gross kind of sympathy for Miranda. Because Miranda was humanized just moments before this scene occurs, we are brought to hope that Miranda doesn’t lose her job and whatever happens next doesn’t involve her having to give up her company. Of course, she ends up avoiding this fate, but does so by betraying Nigel. The audience is sent on a roller coaster of emotions and, as a result, goes into the next few scenes entirely unsure of what to expect.
Protagonist’s Moral Revelation: This event is the turning point for Andy. Throughout the film, she has been consistently shifting away from her morally bound self and has fallen into an industry based entirely in self preservation. When she sees the ever-kind Nigel get hurt as a result of this industry’s plainly toxic culture, however, she, along with the audience, suddenly realizes exactly what a world built in self preservation means. The worst traits of the antagonist and, to a lesser extent, herself, are revealed here, forcing her towards her ultimate moral decision- backing out of her job.
Though there’s a lot more to talk about in this scene (the fact it takes place on a public stage,the fact that Nigel introduces Miranda), it’s largest success stems from how it fulfills every plot it sets for itself. With it being a finale of sorts, here is when you want every storyline to converge. By thoroughly establishing a number of expectations for the audience going in, the writer allows the scene to unfold in a manner which is unexpected yet natural all the same.