3/23/13

Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS: Party 'til You Die

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Spring Breakers (2013)
Director: Harmony Korine
Writer: Harmony Korine
Cast: Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane
Website: Spring Breakers Official Website

In Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, shaman-like OG Alien (James Franco) utters the mantra "spring break forever" in an ethereal tone that echoes throughout the film. His words are the lynchpin between two colliding yet converging worlds. The participants in those worlds are each living a fantasy life with a fast approaching expiration date; the difference is that one group has the ability to escape that world whenever they chose, while the other is trapped by circumstance.

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College friends Faith (Gomez), Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson), and Cotty (Korine), a group of pretty blondes (and one brunette), are a few dollars short to make it down south to St. Petersburg, Florida for Spring Break. The obvious solution is rob a local restaurant for the loot, one performed with aplomb by the ennui-stricken girls. Each is looking for a life changing experience among the partying crowds of the beaches and clubs, and find a world ready to embrace their pent up emotions and lust for ACTION. When they land in jail after a drug raid, Alien bails them out and takes the enthusiastic crew on a violent voyage into his world of hustling, guns, and drugs.

A superficial look at Korine's multi-layered film would have you believe this is just a Girls Gone Wild video taken to the utmost extremes. That couldn't be more inaccurate. Sure, the film is filled from beginning to end with tanned naked bodies, rampant drug use, and violence, but peeling those layers reveals an affecting examination of intersecting cultural, economic, and existential themes. The film is actually a rather complicated piece of filmmaking once those conversation threads are breached.

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College kids descend like a plague upon communities like St. Petersburg, stripping the towns to the bone. Conversely, these communities are dependent upon a tourism trade that requires them to look the other way as privileged young adults yearning for "freedom" or "release" do so under a veil of perceived consequence-free debauchery. On the outskirts lie the people born and raised in those communities whose only chance of survival is in benefiting from the destruction. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, our four young protagonists - deemed "special" by Alien - penetrate the fringes where people like Alien and his rival Archie (Gucci Mane) battle for control of the illicit profits and the infinite perpetuation of gangster culture. This subculture is now in danger of succumbing to the same fate that befell the city around it.

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Disney star Gomez as the wholesome Faith is the only character given any sort of depth, and for a reason. Her character is the only one with plans for genuine soul-searching. She, however, heads home quickly when things get too uncomfortable. The rest of the characters live in a state of arrested development, opting instead to take Alien literally on his offer to live like it's Spring Break forever. Already having it all, they now want Alien's lifestyle - a house full of guns and money - because nothing else could possibly be fulfilling. As he puts it, "this is the American dream".

The interchangeability of the remaining female characters plays into Korine's challenges to pop culture and its rotating cast of used child stars, co-opted culture (hip-hop in particular), and other forms of throw-away exploitation. His casting of child-stars Gomez and Hudgens, as well as running tributes to Brittney Spears serves to drive his point that innocence is not only lost, but it's been taken out back behind a shed, shot in the head, and buried in an unmarked grave while the next "big thing" is trumpeted just above the freshly buried corpse.

Part of what makes Spring Breakers fascinating is the sumptuous visuals provided by Benoit Debie (Irreversible) who contrasts the frenetic party scenes with periods of wondrous beauty. This can be shots of the setting sun on a beach, or just the image of the four girls playfully contorting their bodies in silhouette against the walls of narrow hallways and breezeways. These are the moments when the characters feel most human with a world truly open to possibility. These moments are also fleeting...

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The scenes of violence employed by Korine may seem over-the-top, but it's a clever way to subvert expectations. These girls  commit crimes without remorse or fear, believing that they do, indeed, rule the world. They do so brazenly, right in the faces of their victims, believing every second that they are invincible. In this extreme and satirical way, Korine is contrasting their behavior with that of politicians, corporations, entertainers, and the like that anonymously do the same. These are the children of those so-called leaders who will grow up to replace them in their pursuit of money, money, money. Think of Spring Break as depicted here an internship for the larger crimes surely to characterize their career trajectory.

Spring Breakers Trailer

1 comment:

The Conduit said...

FINALLY finished my review of this, so I came by to check out your's. Not surprisingly, we feel much the same. Sadly, very few will be able (or willing) to pull away the superficial outer scab and see what Korine's really saying here. Great piece (as per usual) my friend.