Spring Breakers (2013)
Written & Directed by Harmony Korine
Faith and her friends are sliding into a state of monotony and apathy at college. While Faith attends class and Bible study, her friends Brit, Candy, and Cotty split their time between academics and partying. The tension of the mundane finally breaks them, and Brit and Candy rob a local restaurant to fund their trip to St. Petersburg for spring break. Faith is unaware of the criminal activities that lead her south. Once in Florida, they meet a rapper/drug dealer called Alien who begins espousing his warped reimagining of the American Dream. Faith becomes uneasy with where they have ended up with Brit and Candy become increasingly enthralled with the dangerous world they are becoming a part of.
Spring Breakers is a highly divisive film and not a movie that will never appeal to a broad audience. That’s okay, and I suspect filmmaker Harmony Korine would be okay with that. If you aren’t familiar with Korine, he has carved out a particularly unique niche of cinema for himself. He started as the screenwriter for infamous 1990s film Kids. He made his directorial debut with the jarring and bizarre Gummo, eventually going on to make Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely, Trash Humpers, and then Spring Breakers. Korine’s work is marked by a very meandering, improv-like style. The camera is a floating, distracted observer. Korine is not interested in telling a traditional plot-focused narrative. The mood is paramount, followed by very non-traditional character development.
Spring Breakers is no different, save for a slicker sheen overlain across the film. The first sign of Korine’s intent comes in the form of his casting, particularly Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. In 2012, these two actresses names were most associated with their work as Disney Channel starlets. Putting them in a film like this, with a very MTV stylized look is a move on Korine’s part to comment on youth culture.
A reasonable first assumption would be that Spring Breaks is some sort of polemic against modern youth. Sex and drugs are shown in highly fried and burnt out style. Alien, in particular, is a goblin-like character, spouting twisted and ignorant philosophy about the nature of success. Dialogue is repeated to the point of becoming annoying. But this is all purposeful and isn’t part an old man’s screed against young people.
I believe that Korine is sympathetic towards these characters. The emphasis on repetition and the dialogue on apathy, a yearning for going to a new better place, informs us that these are lost, young people. Brit and Candy make a telling comment before their robbery while trying to psyche themselves up, talking about this as a like a movie or a video game. They have to mentally disconnect themselves from reality to commit this act. Once they get to Florida, the camera leers over bodies, mainly female anatomy. However, this is not Korine’s personal view but a reflection of cultural norms. Culture boils young females down to purely sexual forms in popular media.
The reveal that this is the crux of Korine’s argument comes in the third act when elements of reality begin to hit. Cotty gets shot during a drive-by, and then Candy and Britt are finally the last ones standing after a bloodbath. The final scenes of this duo are not victorious. They drive off in Alien’s car looking weathered, anxious, and unsettled. The blaring Skrillex music and lustful camera angles are gone now, and we’re left with a bleak, washed-out landscape. Spring Break forever.