Spring Breakers (2013), directed by Harmony Korine
If there’s one film out there right now that’s dividing audiences and kicking up a fuss it’s Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s twisted, dark little tale of youthful debauchery, violence and narcissism. It’s being accused of being sexist, dangerous, perverted, worthless, inane and immoral.
But there are others calling it the most relevant, and potentially best, film of the year so far. I agree with the latter.
Anyone going into Spring Breakers expecting some titillating romp will, or at least should be, terribly disappointed. Yes, as so many reviewers have pointed out, there is a lot of bare flesh, a lot of drinks and drugs, slow-motion breasts filling the screen, a lot of Girls Gone Wild-type debauchery…but none of it plays as something we, the audience, should be enjoying on a surface level.
Anyone who sees the movie and still believes it to be a romp, or an intended romp, well, we see media and the world through very different eyes.
What Korine has accomplished is to make a deliciously insidious art film masquerading as mainstream exploitation. Through his sense of visuals, keen editing, music, narrative structure and the overall tone of the film, Korine has taken a facet of modern youth culture, namely that of narcissistic excess, and explored and exposed its dark, empty, vacuous core.
I find the culture Spring Breakers depicts fascinating. There’s the whole movement of hip-hop going on right now which revels in the unapproachable, in the weird, in the rejection of morals, in seemingly purposeful dismissal of anything resembling accessible.
(And yes, I say this as a white, out of the loop Canadian, so bear with me. But in any case I’m talking about A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Kitty Pryde…Those types of acts.)
At first this music is extremely off-putting and deadening. There’s an anger about it, a complete rejection of cultural norms, that is confrontational and almost nightmarish. It’s not outwardly, instantly “enjoyable” to listen to. But it’s also completely captivating because it’s something new, it’s art and culture adapting to be relevant. It’s rejection of all that is culturally and morally holy is its way of carving out something new, something “real.”
Youth music has always intended to scare the parents. Now it’s just getting a heck of a lot darker.
My point is that Spring Breakers taps into this vein. Its very form is subversive and intentionally disorienting. The narrative jumps through time and events, images are distorted, repeated, slowed down, all set to dubstep downbeats, working to disengage the viewer from any enjoyment of the film as a linear narrative. It takes modern technology-driven culture to its extreme and in doing so exposes its lifeless core. It’s a beautiful exercise in confrontational art.
But this is all accomplished with perspective and intent and I don’t believe Spring Breakers is ever trying to be “cool.” For those saying the film has no morals, I think they’re way off the mark.
The two most fleshed-out protagonists abandon spring break because they can’t take its moral decay. The two characters who revel in it are described from the beginning as being cold, dead inside. The film itself is far less interested in those characters and never portrays them as admirable or “cool.” It plays them as scary, I would argue, as people no one would want to be friends with.
And James Franco, in top form, plays a horrendous, vile character, who is portrayed as such.
The film is morally ambiguous, at worst, which is not the same as morally corrupt. And I would argue its morals, its intention, its “message” is quite clear: this lifestyle is a dead end. It’s not feminism. It’s not titillation. It’s not hedonism as sexual liberation. There is no celebration of spring break in this movie. It’s more than rebellion without a cause, it’s rebellion without a conscious.
It’s a depiction, not a endorsement, of a culture in decay, a youth numbed by technology, powered by money not earned, dismissing any and all societal norms and seeking identity through a perverted sense of morality.
How anyone could see this brilliant, deceptive film as anything other than that is beyond me.
Spring Breakers is in cinemas now.