By Daniel Kasman
The American Dream of current cinema is, for the most part, what it has always been: aspirational. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012), Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012), Pain & Gain (Michael Bay, 2013): the tenacity and perseverance of those after something special for themselves. Sofia Coppola's American Dream has no illusions of such mobility; rather, its dream is of a mirror facing a mirror. The rich and beautiful look at their celebrity equivalents and desire to consume them not to better themselves but to act as sustenance. A thing consumes an image of itself to sustain its own image. The Bling Ring's gaggle of girls and few boys look and behave no different after they transition from trendy SoCal partiers to criminal burglars; they only continue to exist as they had in the past, cruising on a sea of projected, assumed, and consumed imagery. Pre-crime, post-crime: same attitude, same lifestyle. Consumer culture is removed from economics and becomes an internal churn of feedings, the American youth no longer “consuming” images and material as purchases and acquisitions, but rather absorbing—illegally and invasively—those images and materials to become their own defining elements. Human “character” becomes merely the reaction to one's own image, and to others, superficial, distractedly interested, fundamentally uncommitted, temporarily satisfied, forever self-questioning. And materials likewise are no longer goods but are just images, purses as “purses,” brands abstracted, public celebrities as nothing more than empty luxury houses with doors unlocked full of of plunderable, disposable, interchangeable attractions.
There is none of the complicit exuberance and simultaneous discomfort of Michael Bay's exuberantly honest grotesquery of Pain & Gain or the dangerously ambivalent impressionistic vid-art dedication of Korine's Spring Breakers. Coppola's film feels closest to Soderbergh's materialist, semi-arbitrary "New Objectivity" style of recent digital filmmaking, involving a sense of the director remaining at a distance from his own chosen material, “executing” a project, with an entire feature hanging on a conceptual premise to be then illustrated semi-piecemeal day-of and on-set, with little rationale for scene-by-scene construction other than the dutiful introduction of the concepts to the audience. The Bling Ring features little analysis of the social dynamic or headspace of its teen protagonists, and Coppola's partial distance leaves the movie hanging in an unsure state of what to show or why to show what it's chosen to show. And I wonder: Is this film trying to avoid becoming a part of the image-addicted/image-lifestyle culture it portrays? Both the Korine and Bay films are very decisively a part of what they critique; Coppola tries to at once partake and stand back. At its worst, this can be but illustration with a social message, scored from the inside out with a soundtrack sympathetic to the plight of rich American teens growing up in vacuum where value is not a moral scale but a the implication of a two dimensional image shared digitally. Ultimate value being the quality of the “record” of a photo uploaded to and “archived” on Facebook, to be forgotten in the newsfeed's deluge-stream, and necessitating in its transience a cost which is its constant upkeep. But from The Bling Ring one can hardly sense that this “cost” is a human one.
THE BLING RING
Un certain regard
USA. 2013. 90’
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Cinematography: Christopher Blauvelt, Harris Savides
Editing: Sarah Flack
Music: Brian Reitzell, ScHoolBoy Q, Reema Major, Sammy Adams, M.I.A., Rye Rye, Oneohtrix Point Never, Big K.R.I.T, Kanye West
Set Designer: Anne Ross
Actors: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Pfister, Georgia Rock, Maika Monroe