On some count this is arguably Harmony Korine’s most accessible film but it has also been divisive especially in regards to many misreadings and varying interpretations upon meaning by the general public. On my first watch, I didn’t expect particularly much because all I knew of it was that it was a different turn for teen star Selena Gomez and not too long prior to watching Spring Breakers as my first Harmony Korine, I was only washing away the bitter taste left in my mouth by Project X. Initially I went in expecting another sort of party comedy along those lines, where debauchery takes over the film’s running time – and I was proven wrong, but I didn’t get it then. I was merely fascinated by all the neon, although I suppose it’s a part of the point that Korine intended to get across.
Following four college girls after they pull off a robbery to fund their spring break vacation, Harmony Korine tells a story of the American dream in the form of this immoral, glamorized image of freedom which they live during one spring break. They get arrested eventually, but they catch the interest of a drug dealer named Alien, who is played by James Franco. Now under Alien’s care, they enter a whole new world of sex, drugs, and violence – being absorbed into his own criminal agenda. The idea of Spring Breakers is one that I can only imagine Harmony Korine would have only wanted to sound just like any regular party film but there’s a false glory it captures to which he’s condemning amidst all the hypnosis present within the neon and the carefree lifestyle on display.
Casting Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson was only one step to the film’s cleverness for many youths would recognize these names most as staples of entertainment from their own generation – now as they are corrupted by this descent into amorality. They are not immune to punishment, but Korine shows them as people who willingly brought themselves into this underworld. Korine achieves success, however, on the count that he shows that none of this is what people of the generation would truly want to bring themselves into, for he flings punishment at their morality where necessary. Korine’s film works as an angry piece of work commenting on the corruption of youth from idolatry, as all of his stars minus Rachel Korine (his own wife, the weakest link of the leading girls) find themselves perfectly fitting not only as characters but as a generation of amorality. Selena Gomez’s character, the aptly named Faith, stands out as one who recognizes where her morality has brought her – in undoubtedly her best film appearance yet.
Yet just as these teen queens work their way in capturing a corrupted generation comes James Franco’s unrecognizable, but stunning role as Alien – finding a greater purpose into the film’s commentary by serving as representative of the nightmare these girls have brought them into. Korine doesn’t portray him just as a man of power and glory, but also as a victim of circumstance. His role almost feels like that of a guide for the viewers who would be drawn in by the neon, the soundtrack, and the debauchery that would be exploited in the worst sense as he captures a false glory that falls upon itself if manipulated so overwhelmingly. It is an image that many would see as happy, but a critical factor to this film’s success compared to the failure of a film like Project X is in how this nature is portrayed – the latter does not even attempt at telling a story or saying anything about the degeneracy on the screen, where Harmony Korine’s film is aware in itself of how manipulative it all is.
Korine has a right not to be subtle because it would be easy enough to say that Spring Breakers would not have achieved such success if it were such. It just drowns everything inside of this fantasy, under the guise it looks like a music video on MTV, complete with a soundtrack composed by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. I’ll be one to admit that I’ve never been a fan of Skrillex but in how their score captures what is so hypnotic about this world to another generation only to fall upon itself, it couldn’t have felt any more fitting. Yet amongst all the repetition that comes along the way, there’s a point to which I can’t help but feel as if Spring Breakers ends up meandering. At that point I thought I was losing interest, but thankfully it manages to pick up enough for me to forgive it on that ground.
A future cult classic is what I can (hope to) see Spring Breakers becoming, for all the mixed reactions it garners ranging from it being an effective commentary on youth corruption (the camp where I sit within) or a pointless showcase of neon and debauchery. This film has every right it has to feel so artificial because that’s a perfect image of a teenage fantasy, now bringing their idols along the ride in order to expose something all the more dangerous on the inside. In a sense it works as a commentary upon the excess provided by its setting in the same way that Paul Verhoeven’s misunderstood Showgirls does for Las Vegas. If all that one sees is just shallow voyeurism into the dangers that this world presents a la Project X, then it only misses the point greatly, as something so much more hypnotic and almost dreamy comes in – just like the experience of living through this false glory.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Harmony Korine
Screenplay by Harmony Korine
Produced by Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner, David Zander, Charles-Marie Anthonioz
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
Release Year: 2012
Running Time: 94 minutes