Spring Breakers (2012)
Director: Harmony Korine
Screenwriter: Harmony Korine
Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane
Spring Breakers tells the tale of four college students that travel to Florida for Spring Break to get away from the monotony of their everyday lives. This isn’t some feel-good party jaunt though – it is a Harmony Korine film after all.
The director of Trash Humpers and later The Beach Bum manages to find the darkest moments of this paradise to both the excitement and chagrin of the characters. Three of the girls rob a restaurant in order to get the money to go on the trip, and after an unrelated arrest in Florida they’re bailed out by a local rapper who shows them the realities of a criminal lifestyle.
The film excels in its visual style. Expressionist lighting is used to elevate a mood or heighten the absurdity of any scene. Near the beginning, one character sprays herself in the mouth with a (realistic) water gun while bathed in red light. The lighting evokes a feeling of danger when combined with the action of aiming a gun at oneself, and it shows the character’s love of that danger and intensity. At the end of the film, bright pink, green and yellow lighting contrasts with the actual darkness of the murders taking place. The audience is immersed into the party scenes with interspersed HD cam footage that adds a level of realism to the extravagant events.
Korine effectively utilizes montage to create fascinating sequences that rival any filmmaker. Selena Gomez, who plays the Christian character Faith, talks to her grandmother about the trip as an incredible spiritual experience as shots of partying play on screen. The juxtaposition shows the film’s ultimate point: that letting loose and having fun can be fulfilling. There’s more to the morality of hedonism than a Puritanical distaste, and this particular mix of montage and voiceover plays like Terrence Malick on coke. The best montage in the movie begins with James Franco and three heavily armed women in pink ski masks singing “Everytime” by Britney Spears, and is intercut with shots of the foursome robbing Spring Break tourists. The sheer absurdity of the sequence makes it one of the most spectacular ever committed to film.
The main actresses have great chemistry together, and their bond is believable despite their varying interests in sadistic activity. When they aren’t partying or riding scooters, they’re doing weird wall gymnastics or singing Britney Spears. They’ve clearly grown apart over their years of friendship, but their value and love for one another shines through.
When Faith, seemingly quoting a vapid Instagram post, says that she wants to pause this time in their lives so it lasts forever, her friends tease her and she takes it in stride. They then get a taste of what that pause is like when they meet Franco’s character Alien.
Alien’s ominously mumbled “Spring Break forever” becomes a repeated mantra through the editing. He bails the young women out of jail when they’re caught using drugs at a party, and the three non-Faith characters decide to stay in Florida with him when Faith becomes uncomfortable. Alien isn’t just a rapper, he’s also a robber/drug dealer who is loaded with money, guns and, to quote him, “shit”. The new foursome becomes a Bonnie and Bonnie and Bonnie and Clyde-esque crew, reigning terror across the St. Petersburg area.
Such is the case with his other work, Spring Breakers is ultimately about portraying the overlooked aspects of American culture to provoke an audience. Alien frequently mentions that he’s living the American Dream as the camera drinks in his bed and walls that are covered with his material things. He’s all about the money, as you can tell from his stacks of cash littered all over the room. Intended or not, Korine shows Alien’s life as the end result of unchecked hedonism and materialism. While those things aren’t necessarily wrong, the particulars of the American pursuit leads to what amounts to a life of crime. Alien’s weird obsession with guns leads to him fellating two silencer barrels of loaded guns held by the women. American corporate and political culture is a similar absolute devotion to profit and weapons, leading us to the political landscape we find ourselves in today, where the embodiment of stupid wealth has become the figurehead of our government. Trump’s gilded apartment is as silly as Alien’s bedroom, and the conservative “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mindset combined with corporate apologia robs those less fortunate of their assets and social safety nets in the name of boosting those who “worked” for their excess.
The ideas and questions that come out of this Harmony Korine picture make Spring Breakers a fascinating movie. Most party movies fail to reach the bar of beautiful art, and even less truly have anything to say about the hedonism they portray. Any fan of the art form should watch Spring Breakers for its surreal visual qualities, the interesting characters and the way it captures a point in American culture during our last decade.