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Spring Breakers: A Daring Vision Of The Post-MTV Experience

CREDIT: SOURCE

One of the four leading ladies of Spring Breakers spends an entire minute lecturing her friends on how she hates that good old-fashioned American cycle of living. The same repetition of job and family - and the way society makes us want to plug into it without questioning what truly makes one happy. She paints the portrait for us with her mentioning of how people go to the same gas stations and pass the same streetlights without even questioning how monotone it has all become for them. It's only more fitting in context with director Harmony Korine's vision that she ultimately mentions the color of grass being brown rather than green; one of many notices in which that color makes an appearance throughout the film. Green defines a certain character who has an alien cypher and is endowed with guns bigger than his cock, the greenest of green drugs and greenest of money. Where’s the brown in all this?

Korine's use of color in Spring Breakers is quite possibly the most revealing aspect of his picture. Colors are not always sorely distinct for certain motifs, but there are many moments in which particular shade of pink or yellow seems to tell something more than what is otherwise thought of on the surface level. And just as these colors flash their way in a strobe-like effect, this same kind of coding can can be pointed out about the characters within the story; practically all of them aren’t really developed beyond the stigma of a certain archetype. While the lovely actresses (and actor) elevate their roles into the realm of humanity with their strong doses of emotional resonance and/or substance, Korine still remains keen on making the four girls (and man) stay in context with the film by having them defined by singular traits - whether they be a deep-rotted love for Jesus Christ himself or, in context with American pop iconography that is ever present in the movie’s blood, Britney Spears herself. When the spring breaking stops halfway through the picture and the film begins to develop a strong stinch of white-man burden and politically-incorrect black stereotypes, it's quite fitting to have the main premise of the film being an alien and his two unicorns battling out a colorful ice cream cone. Symbols are where Korine gains the universality.

The partygoing post-MTV experience is satirized as a certain lifestyle of many in contemporary American youth, but Korine never seems to really be wagging an objective finger to the madness. There are times where he actually seems to fall into the chaos himself - the camera falling deeply in love with the sights of cocaine being snorted off of the abdominis of wasted hot girls just as much as it gets its socks off to the sight of lesbian activity taking place within an ocean of soap bubbles on the floor of a desecrated motel room. When the film first opens up and we see the casual beach party slowly fade into over-sexualized mania (with Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" appropriately layering further dread with the first vulgar image being a masculine jock-type gripping his bulge), it seems that Korine is ever so eager to zoom in on flopping bare breasts and men using their longneck bottles of drugstore-cheap beer to symbolize their ragingly anxious-to-get-laid penises. By jumping into the party and forgetting about the more socially-accepted ways of life, he's ultimately sharing this  journey with his four ladies rather than just documenting it. Escapism through such "fun" is what makes them feel more free - it's what the American dream really is, right? Being happy? Having fun? It's what most of us crave, but most push to the back-burner. But anybody could easily fall into it. It’s that seductive. 

Because of this attachment to the concept of the said "American dream", Korine has created a deft piece of American cinema, not because of its pure audacity from a technically impressive filmmaking aspect or, hell, even the simple fact this movie managed to open as big as it did within the realms of the mainstream, but most definitely because his work here feels pinnacle in defining the generation of which it comes from. It's not that the movie is really some kind of authentic work, either, even upon learning that the multiple shots of unknown faces on half-naked bodies flashing the camera middle fingers and guzzling the booze beyond their containment may have in fact been real people enjoying such free-spiritedness. Spring Breakers is outrageous in ways that would make Ralph Bakshi and Russ Meyer grin with glee. The way the movie creates such tension out of surrealistic elements also makes me question on if some of the more unbelievable things in the world just come off seemingly fake when put onto the screen. I’m reminded of Ricky Jay’s lines from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia in which he claims “well, if that wasn’t a movie, I wouldn’t believe it”. Spring Breakers feels quite overtly animated at times rather than the kind gritty neo-realism we are often treated with most “social commentary films” - with that use of color and cyphers only further drawing forth this kind of cartoonish boldness. Somehow, though, it feels all the more honest because of this. It's also, for lack of a better term in this mental thesaurus of mine, quite hilarious in ways that feel both right and wrong. The movie is akin to partaking in some taboo sex act or something.

 

 

The plot itself is rightfully episodic in nature and full of endless repetition; circling in and around itself and jumping in and out of chronological wavelengths; operating in a kind of structural style I have come to just label as "mirror films": where one-half of the film's narrative seems to illustrate something that we are drawn to believe represents the film’s very nature until something else entirely is brought to light during the second-half; which reflects on the previous and enlivens (and perhaps even slightly criticizes) what had come before. Many essential scenes throughout usually have a scene later on that feels like a reflection of sorts. Not only is there one scene involving the covering of a Britney Spears tune, but there's two; the latter going beyond the previous (which showed the free-spirited semi-rebellious fun of the girls singing “...Baby One More Time” outside of a diner) by defining the warped minds of its protagonists. Instead of the previous number’s whimsical (and slightly twisted) sense of companionship between the four girls, we have a song drawing attention to haunting faces and broken wings as the girls have now become Charles Manson / Helter Skelter doppelgangers hellbent on not only serving a man who has opened up a doorway to a type of enjoyable hell, but thoroughly containing ownership over the experience as well. Similar reflective pieces come through in a duo of scenes taking place on buses; both involving a different character holding their hand up to the window as to melodramatically express their dream of freedom being ripped from their grip. Even more fitting within this type of patchwork is the character of Alien (James Franco) being accompanied by a set of twins who come off as his quasi-henchmen offspring. That they eventually drop out of the film’s story when two of the girls (both the only blondes from the group) have now become his passions, speaks miles about how both of the blondes throughout the duration of the film have existed as this macabre representation of brutality; the two always being the closest in sharing their thirsts for violence beyond what the other two girls could have slightly imagined. 

Not even the bright strokes of excess caked thick upon Spring Breakers can suffocate what is a movie endowed with a very damaged, struggling-to-keep-beating heart that is the origin to the power it contains. The movie itself is brave enough to break the fourth wall quite often (a very creepy moment where Benson stares at the camera sent chills all up my spine) and, as previously stated, jump out of its order of chronology to help define where the mental states stand for their characters and their stakes. A shot involving the bloody fingertips of a faceless character are used nearly 30 minutes before the scene actually occurs within context of the story. Within the climax the actual shot takes place, it comes off as morbidly and heartbreakingly poignant.  Out-of-context, it visually shows a sense of danger that the frigid state-of-mind one of the female characters has concerning their stability alongside the Alien character.  In similar ways that he did with his masterful debut Gummo back in 1997, Korine once again makes intense use of voiceover, as well - with phone calls to loved ones and badly-written poetry and music making as much repetitive noise as the dubstep score on the soundtrack sometimes pounds to the eardrum. I've heard many compare it to the way Terrence Malick uses narration in his work, and it's quite fittingly comparable. But only Korine uses it beyond just shading poetics, making it another venomous reminder to the cycle of this dark world being instantly similar to the cycles of the "unhappy everyday American" life.

SpringbreakersCREDIT: SOURCE

While the girls open the film up with their search of the dream within the realm of the spring break, it ultimately bleeds ever so leisurely into being about the kind of freedom and dreams that were attained by the character of Alien; it becoming ever so obvious that this is the character that Korine most viciously sympathizes with in the picture. The man is undeniably absent of strong mental stability, but he's never wholly repulsive outside of that. And it's not because he's got charm or swagger (both of which are put-on by his poseur presentation of a thug caricature), but because Korine makes note that the only way for him to achieve his dream was, in a world of complete destruction, to play predator. It's quite a tragedy that the only way Alien has found his kind of freedom is through a world of crime and fakery; purchasing materialistic items when not spewing money out like candy to the strangers partying on the Florida coast raising their arms in praise toward him as he spits out terrible attempts at rap music. "I grew up the only white boy," he explains to the girls. And him saying that feels all kinds of impressionable. Dominated by the seediness in a community revolving around the world of thug-life blacks who have found themselves achieving similar levels of "American success" in the compounds of big mansions and women ready to bow down to their every gesture, Alien's personality and demeanor only makes sense; his name being anything but subtle in describing how he finds the dream of his. When approached by an enemy endowed with pistols, Alien flashes the weaponry strapped within the waistband of his name-brand Calvin Klein boxers. When the approaching danger backs off, he gives a kind of childish smile. Not because he defended his own life, but because he feels like a total badass. Tony Monero. Feeling like a fucking "gangsta".

SpringbreakersCREDIT: SOURCE

Which leads into Korine's racial tension laced throughout the entirety of Spring Breakers - and almost uncomfortably so. Within the first five minutes, alone, it is made evident that blacks plays an undercurrent to the movie's dissection on American values. When Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) sit in their class goofing off about performing blowjobs over their break, the professor can be heard in the background talking about the reconstruction of black culture. Only minutes prior to a scene in which Brit is seen triggering a phallic squirt gun full of whiskey down her throat in front of a mural of Lil' Wayne (who can be seen flashing his golden grillz with a demonic smile). That the characteristics of both Jesus and Lucifer are incorporated here in this same scene via Korine’s splicing of those events with the spiritual session of Faith (Selena Gomez) alongside her “hip” preacher name-dropping Satan (with a rightful cut to Brit and Candy hitting the bong), it kind of builds pressure high to see the next mural in the movie be of Jesus Christ and the Faith character; Korine practically juxtaposing spirituality with racism. Further elevating such tension, a sequence later on involving the robbery of a diner shown from the perspective of the getaway truck, the stereo menacingly plays a Nicki Minaj tune while we watch the proceedings from afar. Emphasis is thoroughly drawn to the squirt gun being pointed at the back of a black man's head, slowly losing the image behind a wall as the camera further moves on. Note the film’s ending showcasing a montage of close-ups to the bullet holes singed to the foreheads of a group of blacks (and, rightfully, Alien being included), and  thoughts are further stirred.

Alien's rivalry with an ex-friend called Archie (Gucci Mane) is probably the most outrageous element of Korine's satirical side here. Archie and his posse are almost completely defined by racial stereotypes -  the most notable scene being him and his "family" surrounded on the white leather couches of his luxurious mansion with a coffee table full of marijuana sitting casually in front of them. Upon his lap, as he describes the toll Alien's success as a drug dealer has taken on his own family's financial situation ("that American dream", as he also notes), sits his child looking ripe for one of those racism-themed memes you'd see pass your Facebook wall cracking jokes about watermelon and fried chicken. One is forced to question Korine's obnoxious use of such imagery (and the ever-flowing comedic dialogue that falls from Mane’s mouth) and what he's attempting to do with it. It would be easy to label it as exploitation to the maximum degree had it not been for the way colors as a whole are so seemingly important to the world of this story. The final voiceover monologue by Faith even makes further illustration of it when she mentions how "spring break is so full of colors we have never seen before" when describing her discovery of that escapist pathaway. That this comes from the very character that feels freedom amongst the white-dominated world of spring breakers doing illegal activity and then discomfort amongst blacks harmlessly playing in a poolhall makes it all the more ironic. Has an American film ever been so biting and thought-provoking about its own viewpoints on the country’s buried foundation? Has one ever been so correct?

SpringbreakersCREDIT: SOURCE

These strands float right alongside the film's ever-so-apparent sexuality; where almost all of the characters (even Faith) seem to operate on their instincts to fall into a world of unjudged sexual expression. Guns are shown multiple times as objects of sexual design, and not just to the women firing them off, either. The first screening of Spring Breakers I attended was shared by a total of eight other twentysomething moviegoers around my age; the most revealing amongst them being a group of four boys who spent nearly the entirety of the pre-trailer time talking about how excited they were for a party movie to feature boobs galore. Seeing as that is exactly what Korine gave them and, yet, had them feeling so uncomfortable with themselves that they felt the need to leave the theater at the exact moment Hudgens and Benson finally are shown nude and having sex with the Franco character, kind of shows the power Korine achieved within the world of modern American youth (or youth in general, it can be assumed). Noticeably, Korine never once throughout the entirety of the movie ditched that aura of the partygoer scene he began the film with (the montage that had those boys all hyped up with smiles and giddiness) and that, for me, shows the work of a pure artist thoroughly engraved within his own commentary. He's angry and he’s even a bit somber about what he's capturing - but he's not acting above it all, either. He, too, is American after all.