The new film "The Bling Ring" is based on a true story about a group of teenagers who stole millions of dollars' worth of valuables from various celebrities. As I was watching it, it struck me how odd it was that it should have been directed by Sofia Coppola.
Sofia is the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the "Godfather" films. Those films were dark stories of evil run amok. But for sheer bleakness, even nihilism, they have nothing on "The Bling Ring." The "Godfather" films, especially the first one, portrayed a titanic moral struggle, with one man caught in a battle between his conscience and his family.
In "The Bling Ring," nobody has a conscience.
The young characters in this film are creatures of pure greed and desire -- if they see something they want, they go invade someone else's house and take it for themselves. There's no struggle, no qualms, not even a residual morality. They love nothing but clothes, jewelry, shoes, cash, and drugs, and they have no higher aspiration than getting as many of these things as they possibly can. When finally confronted with cops and cameras, they mouth vapid platitudes that they've heard on TV, clearly having no idea what they mean.
The chirpy mother of one of the girls, Nikki, gives her family vague, New Agey pep talks every morning about going out into the world and being wonderful -- talks that, predictably, have not the slightest impact on her daughter's behavior. When the police show up to arrest Nikki for theft, her mom brightly informs them that she homeschools her children according to the principles of "The Secret," securing her nomination for the Most Clueless Person Ever Born award.
What's even more disturbing is that it's difficult to tell exactly how the filmmakers want us to feel about all this. The story has no structure to speak of -- the kids find out that a celebrity's going to be out of town, they burglarize his or her home, they find out another one's going out of town, they burglarize that home, and on and on and on. Instead of trying to escalate the tension or build a more substantial storyline, Coppola gives us lots of lingering shots of the kids trying on clothes in Paris Hilton's closet, and Lindsay Lohan's closet, and half-a-dozen other closets, until you start to wonder just whose side she's on here. It's true that she emphasizes their shallowness and depravity until she has you cringing, but nonetheless, she doesn't give us any moral vantage point from which to observe them. She seems to be almost as captivated and distracted by the clothes as they are.
Additionally, the idea that none of them has any ethics at all seems to be her own invention. If you look at the original Vanity Fair article that inspired the movie, at least a couple of the perpetrators seemed to have a few twinges of conscience now and then. What does it mean that Coppola's film erases those twinges completely?
I'm not sure -- all I know is that we've come a long way since "The Godfather." You can argue that greedy little monsters like these kids were created by bad parenting, or too much wealth, or the tabloid culture (one of the girls ends up in the same cell block as Lohan after stealing some of Lohan's things). But whatever created them, they're scarier than anything you'll see in any horror film or gangster movie. Francis Ford Coppola may have portrayed evil winning out over good, but his daughter has come up with a world in which good never even puts up a fight.