In her fifth feature film, The Bling Ring, Sophia Coppola tackles the subject of celebrity idolism. The narrative, which is told through her traditional cinematic style, presents a complex look at young people who might otherwise be described as simple. Coppola is well-known for her unique kind of quiet, contemplative authorship, which lends itself well to telling such a complex story.
The Bling Ring is based on the true story of a group of young people living in the Hollywood area who are obsessed with celebrity culture and break into celebrity homes to steal their designer belongings. They are eventually caught because they openly brag about their criminal exploits to their friends and post pictures of their “bling” on social media.
At the level of its construction, The Bling Ring is an extremely feminist film. Even though the film is based on real events, Coppola changed the names of the characters so that the real people who committed these crimes would (theoretically) not receive any more praise nor commendation than they already have. This is a feminist choice because the audience is able to view Coppola’s unique interpretation of the story without the people involved in the real crimes being endorsed.
The story is a simple one, one that we’ve all heard variations of before. The increasing worship of celebrity and designer culture is something that we’ve all seen over the past decade. Those of us who consider ourselves “intellectual” often look down on individuals who promote themselves as followers of the cult of celebrity: the people who would post “selfies” with captions that read “yolo,” or “swag,” or anything with a hashtag in it.
It is easy to see how a film about the height of celebrity worship would portray the involved individuals as caricatures, people so obsessed with fame that they are not even recognizable as people anymore. However, in her film, Coppola engages a feminist ethic to avoid rendering her characters inhuman.
In The Bling Ring, Coppola makes great achievements as a storyteller. Because we as the audience are so inundated with images of celebrity worshipers and we have so little sympathy for them, it is very impressive that she is able to present these characters to us as fully formed humans that we can actually relate to, despite how ridiculous they may seem at first glance. Coppola’s refusal to mock her characters, who are based on actual people, is a feminist choice.
Because she refuses to mock these characters, we are given the opportunity to really examine them as individuals and try to understand how they became the people they are. If we can try to understand people on their own terms, then we can begin to address the problems that they face and the issues that have caused them to commit criminal actions.
This ability to empathize with people who we would like to separate from ourselves is one of the most valuable tools that feminism has. As feminists, we strive to reach out to people on their own level and begin to engage them with feminist ideals and ways of looking at life that they perhaps might not have been aware of before. We cannot further any feminist cause without this empathy for people and their life situations, no matter where they fall politically.
This act of feminist empathy is embodied in the viewing experience of The Bling Ring. If we treat people as caricatures of ideology then we can never truly face the real problems that we face in society. If Coppola had treated her characters conventionally, we would not be presented with a thoughtful, nuanced look at the effects that celebrity culture has on people, especially young people.
Through her brilliance, Coppola gives us a film that is not only about the damage that celebrity culture has on people, but at a sub-textual level she speaks to us about the importance of empathy and the dangers of the conventional way of looking at things. By engaging a feminist ethic, both the filmmaker and the audience are allowed to grow both intellectually and ideologically.
Written by Abigail Sorensen