dir. Harmony Korine
Garish hedonism reigns in Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s fifth feature-length effort. Opening with a half-naked beach boozing feast and featuring four bikini-clad college girls as its leads, it seems concerned with nothing but tantalizing exploitation. Its close-up, shallow-focus images of sensuality, along with throbbing electronic beats, emerge like neon splatters, leaving viewers bedazzled to the point of desensitization. Stability has almost no place in this epicurean universe; figures in the frame move constantly, lights flicker, colors smudge, and whispery voiceovers waft through the scenes. Scene after scene staggers on, with an increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, and the line blurs further between real life and fantasy when three of the quartet rob a diner with squirt guns as though they were in a video game. Eyes then will open even wider as James Franco’s “Alien,” a narcissistic hustler, self-styled realizer of the American Dream, comes onstage rapping the praises of spring breaks and flashing glitzy grills on his teeth. The cast half studded with former teen megastars alone is indeed an appetizing enough factor that enhances the movie’s allure.
Korine’s highly lascivious fete doesn’t exactly offer an easy ride to heavenly escapism, however. Not just because it borders on the purely exploitative (and thus morally tingling to some), but it also seems so deliberately lacking in form that it may well come off as outright absurd and self-absorbed. Nonetheless, in the midst of an apparent jumble of plot points, which span and zigzag between varying time frames, patterns surface especially at the characterization level when the girls meet Alien. The alternating repetition of classroom and beach party scenes, in either flashbacks or cutaways, for instance, patently represents a clash of values. Such an inner conflict further manifests itself in the archetypal differences that the girls embody. Korine heavily implies from the outset that which one of the girls is most likely to opt out first—the one Christian and absent from the holdup scene, of course—and which ones stay behind and descend willingly into depravity, simultaneously goading the audience into the discomfort zone. After traumatic events, which are interspersed with their phone calls to their families, two of the foursome, Faith and Cotty, feel they have hit their limits and find themselves on the bus back home. Brit and Candy, by contrast, stick around and become heroines in this hyperreality devoid of any regulatory mechanism whatsoever. And by this juncture, they no longer need Alien’s help.
Back to the girls’ encounter with Alien: it’s the hustler who ushers them into the adult world of real guns and of wealth that’s as illicitly earned as the girls’ vacation money, although in Alien’s case, cash comes in through far more vicious means, on a far larger scale. At the midpoint, Alien even preaches in monologue his own distorted version of America’s national ideal, which for a moment seems a prelude to some sort of inevitable, shopworn social commentary on American materialism and the corruption of the ideal. But Korine doesn’t so much expressly moralize as maintain his predominantly detached tone of cynicism. Surely, the second half of the movie centers on the escalation of mischief committed by the girls and the consequences that they either learn to take or willfully ignore, except that as a whole, it refuses to become yet another cautionary tale about teenagers gone astray. The climactic shootout and the final scene, in particular, defiantly crush the viewers’ anticipation that it would end with the bad girls learning their lessons and showing themselves changed women. Instead, the entire thing plays out like a reverie, a dreamy glance at decadence of the time, and remains so until the end credits roll.