Thirsting for Salvation in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

Bling Ring poster

Sofia Coppola’s latest film, The Bling Ring (2013), is an interesting, beautiful, and laconic work that would appear to be only as shiny and shallow as the film’s subjects, their obsessions, and the world they inhabit. And yet this film effortlessly floats on depths as ancient as the human soul and its craving for love. Though the film presents the activities of several high school kids who steal fashionable designer clothing and jewels from movie stars’ unprotected homes just so they can feel some connection with the famous and glamorous (until they get caught of course), the story is, in fact, about the need to be loved and cherished.

Sofia Coppola is a director of subtleties. Rarely offering a direct judgement of her subjects, she instead pulls back and lets us observe their actions and judge for ourselves. Those who would prefer a clear condemnation of theft, or of trespassing, or of the shallowness of Hollywood culture, are not going to get it from Coppola. Instead she gives us little shifts in tone as the film begins with the crazy fun (and criminal) life of these friends and gradually slides towards the dissolution of both the “ring” and their friendships. In the end what we are left with is the revelation of who these kids are, not just a chronicle of what they did and what they got. In other words, Coppola seems to follow that old dictum that if a camera is pointed at something or someone long enough the truth will naturally reveal itself. What the viewer takes away, then, has more to do with what the viewer brought to the viewing than what ethic the filmmaker is trying to push.

Arguably the lead character in this ensemble piece is Marc (Israel Broussard), a soft spoken new student at Indian Hills High School who, like anyone in his situation, looks for a friend and a way to connect in this new environment. Soon he is befriended by Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang). Rebecca becomes the driving force of the Bling Ring. Marc is truly the only character in the film whose heart is laid bare before us. Although he is fully an accomplice in the crimes of the ring, his motivations are not so much the fame obsessions of the others, but the desire to be loved, especially by Rebecca. This love is not romantic love from her, for he is gay, rather he wants acceptance and understanding. Like all of us, he needs and craves friendship.

Bling Ring Israel Broussard

At the end of the film we see Marc in the bright orange coveralls of prison. He has received a sentence of four years in jail for his part in the thefts. Surrounded by older and more hardened criminals, we could feel sorry for him, but not only because he looks too young to be in prison, but because we know how easy it is to give in to wrongdoing because of personal weakness. If we look at ourselves we might see how often we have been in his position, experiencing the consequences of stupid choices because deep within us drive desires we often do not recognize and often cannot control. The human heart is driven by the need for love. Wherever we go, wherever we find ourselves, we cannot help but need affirmation, friendship, and love. In short, we are always looking for salvation. I could not help but be reminded of an opening chapter from The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon:

Men thirst and look for water wherever they think they will find it. As they wander without any horizon in sight and no way of escape, they dig a well each time they pitch their tent. The wonderful thing is that the history of their salvation always begins with the digging of a well. “We find the patriarchs constantly digging wells.”¹ We ourselves are these patriarchs, traversing a promised land as strangers in our own inheritance. Beside their wells they also build altars to their gods; their religion, their ideology, their money, their power. Men are thirsty: How could they fail to dig where they think they may find water?

Even the denials that spring up from our atheistic unconsciousness betray our nostalgia. “They say that they thirst not; they say that this is not a well, that this is not water. They say that this is not a well of water as they have imagined it to be, and they say there is no water.”² But these same men, so sure of themselves, cannot but continue to be still expectant, for to stop thirsting would mean they were already sunk in the sleep of death.

Is it no wonder that Marc sought love where he could? To “dig a well” where he was? To be still expectant? Are we not all like this? Perhaps now Marc, discovering the well he dug has turned out to be dry, has a genuine chance at salvation. Perhaps now he can find a well that will issue forth living water.

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon, trans. by M. J. O’Connell, (pages 21-22). First published as Liturgie de Source, 1980
¹Origen, Homilies on Genesis 13.
²Paul Claudel, The Humiliation of the Father, act II, sc. 2, in Three Plays, trans. J. Heard (Boston, 1945), 185.

on pilgrimage


We’re all on one journey or another. Sometimes a person is just journeying along and then at other times reaches a point, perhaps a milestone, perhaps a destination. And sometimes that arrival really means something personally.

And so, when a middle-aged former Protestant converts to the Catholic Church, it naturally is a kind of subjectively momentous moment, and maybe not a little statement. For those who see the Christian landscape in terms of lines on a map, or divided territories, a conversion like this can seem as a crossing over to (or from) the enemy. There are still those who live in a world of Protestant/Catholic trench warfare, often never believing they are motivated by anything other than love (as the bullets fly). Probably for most people in our modern culture, however, such a conversion warrants merely a moment of curiosity with only a shrug and a “well that’s nice.”

But it is a kind of statement because, while many Catholics inherit their status from birth, and others convert in order to please their future spouses, to be raised as a Protestant like me, and to take one’s Protestantism seriously for more than forty years, and then to find a compelling enough reason to leave the anti-Catholics for the Catholics, is to proclaim something important, even if it’s only important to me. In fact, I suppose for many the issue isn’t at all Catholic vs. Protestant, but why even care? Just love Jesus man. So my conversion is both away from Protestantism and a stance for Catholicism. I am not a love Jesus/hate religion guy. I’m a love Jesus and His Church guy. Thus it’s a stand in favor of something older and more permanent than the latest fashion. It’s saying the old debates still matter in some important way. And it’s saying there is something that transcends both the debates and our post-modern nonchalance.

Regardless, it’s usually best to go where one is called to go. And so this past Sunday, with my family as witnesses, I entered the Catholic Church.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m no warrior or ardent apologist. I don’t want to defend the ramparts. I move incrementally forward, if at all, in fear and trembling. Only by the grace of God go I. If you have followed this blog at all over the past several years you know that my conversion was a long time coming, filled with pondering and searching along a somewhat circuitous path. If you know me personally, then you know I don’t make these kinds of decisions quickly. Perhaps I like to spend more time than I should in reading and discussing, but this was no little thing for me, and it took a lot of prayer, a lot of reading, podcasts, videos, many many discussions, talking to myself, and a fair amount of back-and-forth.

And don’t get me wrong. All this push and pull was not due to doubt. Seven years ago I knew this was the right way for me. But for various reasons I thought it wasn’t possible, or wasn’t coming soon, so I began working towards it in the only way I knew. Years ago I surprised myself (in more ways than one) by praying that God would “make” me Catholic if it was His will. I said that prayer because I didn’t know how to make it happen myself. In His wisdom God took His time.

So here I am, having “arrived” at (and in) the Catholic Church. I believe the Catholic Church to be the one true Church. And yet, in other more significant ways the journey has only just begun. I’m now Catholic but I’m also just now learning to be Catholic. And I think it will take the rest of my life to learn even a little of what that means. Perhaps it’s best to say the journey continues, as it always has. We are all being and becoming.

In short, I’m still on pilgrimage towards the promised land, towards the New Jerusalem, towards salvation. God willing.