Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was one of the most talked about, yet most misunderstood films of 2013. A horror story of the somewhat distorted values and warped perception of spirituality of Britney Spears generation sure to terrify any parent – cashed up, video game fed, oversexed, engaged in religion in a somewhat contradictory way; upon release, those expecting a toilet humor, consequence-free, brainless party movie a’la Project X were surprised to find a film that is much more commentary than debauchery. Don’t get it wrong, there’s plenty, plenty drugs, nudity and partying here, if that’s what you’re looking for, but there’s much more satire that, if you’re not willing to look, you won’t find. Look closer, and you’ll get much more out of this. Korine’s not criticising from an ivory tower, he’s down in the pits.
Skimping on the plot details, Korine’s film is about four college students – Brit, Candy, Cotty, and Faith – who, feeling bored and isolated, plan a trip to yearly Spring Break celebrations in Florida. Short on cash, they supplement their saved money by holding up a fast food joint (in a truly excellent scene that is looked at from different perspectives a number of times), before heading to the Promised Land, filled with booze, sex, and drugs. After a brush with the law, they are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), and given a taste of the eternal party life that they long to have.
In a world where the audience of this film grew up with these squeaky clean Disney stars, the casting of Hudgens, Gomez, and Benson couldn’t be more genius and contribute to his thesis better. Korine poses a few interesting questions in his film – is all we want a break from reality? Do we all feel like we’re somehow missing out, do we all hunger for crazed adventure?
Korine, a trash cinema auteur, effectively plots the film in what some call repetition, in that the same situation is revisited, but always from a different perspective. Brisk at 90 minutes, this narrative device, instead of making the film feel tired, instead feels hypnotic, exactly like the dream-like, drug-fuelled fantasy the protagonists are living.
The eternal party life, of course, doesn’t turn out to be all its cracked up to be. Alien is a symbol is 20th century society’s failings, cast aside to fend for himself and given up on, twisting himself into a nightmarish Peter Pan to survive. He spouts corrupting mantras like hymns, stuck forever in this land that the four girls can leave with a bus trip.
One of the most remarkable elements of Spring Breakers, that truly grounds this neon nightmare in hyperreality, and is one of the best ways to look at the film, however, is the photography. Showing the contradictions – the amount of money, but how dirty it is – complements the pulsing but languid sounds of the score and the jolting sound cues. It’s visually arresting, sweaty, beautiful, and terrifying, an elegy to a culture of excess, the do-nothings-but-get-everythings, that find enjoyment from stupidity.