Movie Review: Spring Breakers

11 Jan



I wasn’t looking forward to this film.  Harmony Korine can be quite unpleasant, and the subject matter made me think this would be a movie about the downfall of awful people.   However, Spring Breakers is quite the opposite, in fact it’s Korine’s most thoughtful film yet.

Yes, it’s about a bunch of college kids on spring break.   Yes they are shallow and juvenile.  Yes the camera comes from a peeping tom viewpoint, ogling the girls and getting in their space.   But there’s so much more to this.

We have four girls going off to Florida for spring break.    Gradually things descend into more and more depravity.   As it gets to be too much, each girl decides to go home when some invisible line has been crossed and they start to get uncomfortable.  Nobody stops them.   The last two girls are the last ones standing, and after a big shootout they leave with Alien’s car also going home.

Korine has picked up a bunch of influences here that I haven’t seen him use before.   We have Thelma and Louise, Faust, Cassavetes, Scarface, beach movies, Screwballs–and that’s just the beginning.   The film is very constructivist, which is quite odd because up until now I would have called Korine a deconstructionist.   The directions are very clear:  we have growing destruction, growing losses, the colors go from bland and grainy to superinfused with color, to dark and shadowy, when each girl leaves the film starts showing them separating from the group.

Spring Breakers is at heart a parable.  We’ve got four girls who go to spring break.  Three steal money from a local diner to be able to afford to go.   They drive off, get a hotel room, and start to party.   They go to a very wild party that gets a little out of control, and get arrested.  The arrest is enough for one girl, so she goes home.  After getting involved with a local gangster (named Alien), one of the girls gets shot, that’s too much for her so she goes home.   The last two get in a huge shoot-out, where Alien gets killed.  They shoot everybody, and then go home.  All four of the girls call home right before they leave saying that they are coming home and they’ll be good from now on.   All four mean it.

What is intimated here is that this experience is a purging of the wild side before these four enter a conservative life where there will be no drugs or partying.   What’s interesting is that the gang members all seem to be people who “went to spring break” and never left.   While the film doesn’t really comment on whether this rite of passage is a good thing, the film does emphasize that these experiences are meant to be temporary, that if you do try to stay there, you’ll eventually become twisted and wrong.

What’s interesting as well is that it’s unclear how much of a gangster Alien really is.  He doesn’t really have much of a posse, and is more living out a fantasy based on Scarface, than living a real life to speak of.   The other gangster does have a posse, but considering that two girls with guns can get through them very easily, one wonders how real that is as well.

Also through this movie, the four girls talking about finding themselves on spring break.   This seems ironic, because through all the debauchery and sexual games, it’s questionable that these girls are learning anything.  However, they change once things go too far, promise to follow the straight and narrow.   Is that reaction really learning?  Is spring break just a way to winnow out all the subversive elements of a population in the safest way possible so that people will happily live out the rest of their lives in dull grayness?

The reaction to this movie has been mixed.   From what I’ve read there’s two groups that don’t like this film.  People who wanted this to be a party film don’t like it because yes there’s a lot of nudity and sex, but none of it is titillating–in fact most of it is disturbing.   This movie is not a party film at all–it’s a meditation on excess.   There’s another group which seems to think that this really is a party film and that Korine just slapped on some artsy elements to hide that.    I wonder if they saw the same movie I did, with the dreamlike imagery, and repeated lines, and symbolism.  So very smart.  I only hope that Korine continues to build on this level of filmmaking in the future.

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