Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Spring Breakers (2012)


Director Harmony Korine is no stranger to controversy. Writing the screen-play for Kids (1995) (with fellow provocateur Larry Clarke) at the tender age of 19, and taking experimental turns with Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (2004), and later Trash Humpers (2009), his latest offering Spring Breakers (2013) delves into the sordid hedonism and debauchery of the all-American institution of ‘Spring Break’. On a broader scale however, it asks the question ‘are people always who they appear to be?’ and more importantly, it explores the concepts of good, evil and morality – both within ourselves and within the world around us. 

The film follows a group of friends – the action-seeking and rambunctious Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) and devout Christian, aptly named Faith (Selena Gomez). These all-American college girls are bored with their life of studying and responsibility and want to escape to the sex and drug fuelled neon wonderland that is ‘Spring Break’. Low on funds, the more fearless girls in the group decide to rob a local chicken restaurant to fund their vacation. With the immoral attitude that the robbery will be easy - “just like a movie or a videogame” and decked out in their denim mini-shorts and balaclavas, the girls pull off the violent smash and grab and persuade the pious Faith to tag along on their adventure.

On their arrival, the girls are bombarded with, sun, sex and illicit substances as far as the eye can see. Music blares as drunken, tanned, even naked teenagers cavort along the beaches. These girls love this place – there is so much excitement, so much temptation all around. Despite their fun however, after running amok in a hotel room, the girls are arrested for drug use and lewd conduct and thrown in jail. Uh oh! Nobody can save them now – right? Wrong! Their knight in ‘bling-ing’ armour, drug dealer/gangster Alien (James Franco) comes to rescue them, bailing them out of jail and taking them under his wing. To most of these girls, this grill-wearing, tattoo-covered stranger seems dangerous mysterious and even alluring. But is this stranger’s enticing world of fast cars, guns, and flowing cash really where these young girls should be? After questioning her own devotion, Faith decides this is a place of danger and sin and sets off home to a more wholesome environment. The other girls however, who are not religious, stay to continue experiencing Alien’s wild ride. Things escalate and the girls fall deeper into the grips of Alien’s enticing world – with a crazy and violent conclusion.

The whole film seems like one extended rap video complete with partying, scantily clad women, drugs, booze and ‘swagger’. All of this seems to be real, but it is superficially real - an idealised version of reality – what a teenager hopes reality is like. Spring Breakers SHOWS a ridiculously excessive world of money, women and drugs – as Alien so eloquently puts it – “Look at all my shiiiit!” but it is poking fun at this over-the-top lifestyle. This rap-video subculture is tacky and sleazy but it is precisely that which makes it enticing - the same can be said for the film itself. Spring Breakers is fascinating in the way that it simultaneously lampoons these teenagers’ vacuous lifestyles and raunchy, drug-fuelled behaviour, while also inviting us to glamourize and celebrate it.

Korine sets his films in hyper-real worlds – it seems part documentary, part teenage fantasy, part MTV reality show. The film can be read as a tongue-in-check social commentary on teenagers today. Their excessive, wild, and often pornographic behaviour makes us suspicious (and horrified) that this is how young people really act when left to their own devices. Korine wants us to think “look at these pathetic kids and the nonsense they are partaking in!” but simultaneously think “Wow! That looks like a raring good time!” While watching, we are simultaneously disgusted and envious of these girls’ adventures.

The characters in Spring Breakers are purposely underdeveloped, shallow and unlikeable. Despite being in college, these girls appear dumb, ditzy and uninterested about their futures. In a brilliant stroke of comic irony, Korine intentionally casts these ‘young and innocent’ actresses who have previously had wholesome Disney personas to further blur the lines between who is good and who is bad. These girls are confronted with sheer bewildering excitement, but at the same time, potential danger and sleaze at every turn. The most apparent theme in Spring Breakers is the obvious dichotomy of ‘good and evil’- both in our own behaviours and in our own moral judgements. This exploration is most clearly explored through the character of Faith. Faith struggles with her own Gnosticism – simultaneously wanting to stay true to her Christian beliefs while being surrounded by wicked Earthly temptations.  The other girls however, do not fear the inherit danger of their situation – perhaps because they do not fear judgement from God.  But just because they do not believe in God, does that mean these girls are immoral? What is a heavenly excess for some is literal Hell for others. These ‘seemingly sweet’ college girls find themselves falling into a ‘sinful’ world of crime, drugs and violence, and while it may be seedy and forbidding, it is also exhilarating and refreshing – just like the film Spring Breakers.

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