Note: I first wrote about this during the time when the film was released on April 1st, though, I re-worked and re-edited this article for submission to a magazine. Here it is–providing more focus and perhaps a compelling statement on society. (Original.)
Although this film is regarded to be funny, Spring Breakers’ use of raunchy behavior and scantily-clad ex-Disney starlets in bikinis has reached many speculative eyes, most of which have been, arguably, very disapproving.
As indie-film artist Harmony Korine sought to bring his material more commercial attention after a few failed flicks, he admits in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I want to do the most radical work, but put it out in the most commercial way.” And, with all the bare breasts accompanied by drugs, money and toy guns, he was sure to grab both the attention of ex-Disney starlets’ fan pools and critics, who may tolerate the film or entirely despise it. But, through plunging these girls into the corrupt world of drugs and money—almost “sexploiting” them—he also provides a fantasy-driven film that finds itself mocking that world rather than glorifying it.
As the film opens itself to a slow-motion sequence of nude breasts and swaying bottoms of young party-goers dancing on a beach, Korine brings us just what we all were expecting of spring break—right in front of your face. We are provided an image of youth culture as plainly as it can be—with the image of the “party girl” putting her “junk ” out there and the “frat boy” taking advantage of it. Just as modern capitalism is run ridiculously well from objectifying women and making them into objects of lust and love, Korine gives us that objectification for our own viewing pleasure, which possibly indicates the guilty reason we found ourselves wanting to watch this film. We can’t help but indulge in it.
With the lack of any build-up or preparation for this sequence, Korine immediately plunges us into a world of discomfort and uncomfortable viewing. Viewers get the sense that Korine isn’t exactly inspiring us to feel pleasure from watching these girls engage in these sequences, but rather find something entirely and inhumanely horrific. Korine makes Candy, Brit, Faith and Cotty’s (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine) violent crime spree—robbing a chicken shop and threatening innocents—almost seem like a gleeful adventure. As we see scenes of the ex-Disney starlets smoking bongs, lighting cigarettes, drinking on-end, sniffing up crack and complaining about how much they want to get out for Spring Break and go “wild” in their bikinis, we can’t help but cringe at the horrifying look it takes on today’s youth.
As drugs are known in youth culture to be like fantasy-ridden escapes, the feel of this film appears to be like a drug-experience itself rather than a narrative. The use of constant darkness, neon lights and cut-editing creates the tantalizing and mysterious tone in which we read the film. Korine’s added-charm comes from his obscure vision, where he simply tells the story through the scenes, rather than verbally telling. As we see the girls go wild drawing naughty pictures, performing crude gestures, and running around like nonsensical teenage girls, we never really have a sense of why the characters do what they do. Rather, viewers are left absorbing what is shown by Korine as we pick up on character constructs from the actions and behaviors the girls engage in, reading it all through the lens of a neon dreamscape.
The only excuse viewers can find for the characters’ behavior is that the girls strive to escape the boring small-town lives they live. That desire is seen through sweet “good girl” Faith (Selena Gomez), who gives into the temptations to have a little “fun”—perhaps because she is a teenager who just can’t seem to find “who she is” or experience that great “realization” through singing songs and praying with her outrageously God-driven prayer group. After all, it’s been said that you can find yourself when you’re in the most foreign of places and situations—and that’s exactly what she did.
As the girls run around in their bikinis almost always surrounded by men, we’re provided a tale that can be both liberating and bothersome. As frontman Alien (James Franco) runs the show, his debauchery in the film is unfailing. Alien’s character is uncomfortably sleazy as he could make anyone feel entirely uncomfortable sitting in his or her own seat. The demoralizing aspect of women is blatantly seen through Alien’s sinister attraction to the girls as he is constantly saying how “lucky” he is to have basically bought the girls as his own, later sharing threesomes with them.
However, the girl-power camaraderie we see in the girls’ heists can almost be interpreted as feminist—we’re taken on a joy ride of girls taking power and initiative in a world that tends to put ladies in the backseat. Alien’s objectification and taking advantage of the ladies is beautifully back-lashed as this film never puts the girls in a state of weakness, frailty, or submission. Rather, we find that all of the girls’ consequences happen by their own choice as they are always liberated with their decision-making which is, in a way, empowering.
Korine revealed to Rolling Stone, “People always say, ‘Your films lack morality.’ But in the end I know my heart is pure. It was important to me the girls felt that too. That in the end the film was on the side of righteousness.”
Korine perhaps hints that in all the societal “wrong-doings” people may engage in, there is still a pure intention that goes beyond the simple act of wrongdoing. When Britney Spears’ “Everytime” begins to play at an emotional height in the film, we receive a tantalizing vision of what this movie’s all about. As Britney’s voice begins to croon over scenes of the characters pointing guns and hustling lowlifes, we find a particular emphatic understanding of the characters’ suffering. As we hear the lyrics, “I make believe that you are here, it’s the only way I see clear,” viewers can begin to understand why these characters may find themselves committing these acts and admitting to themselves, “I guess I need you baby…”
Perhaps it will do us some good to not look at this film for its face value. Perhaps it is better to let this film sink into our minds and realize the darker undertone Korine is presenting to us. This film is by-far bizarre, crazy and strange—like a drunken spectacle, much like in the way the film is explicitly edited and executed. Just as much as Alien and the girls wanted to escape into a life of drugs, money, alcohol and pleasure, we have the pleasure of being amused at Alien’s crazed obsession with his guns, toys and crib, which is something we should be able to openly laugh at.
By infiltrating the mainstream with ideas we all find ourselves indulging in—with drugs, sex, money and the wonders of spring break—Korine has infiltrated all of us. As he states himself that his “dream has always been to infiltrate the mainstream,” he “always thought that was the way to do some serious damage.” Whether any damage was done or not, he sure got our attention and dollars… Isn’t that all that they wanted from us anyway?