SPRING BREAKERS (2013), by Harmony Korine
I just came out of this one and I think I’m in love. Before I write about the film, let me say that I went into this film with no expectations. I didn’t know if it’d be funny or weird or mainstream or uncomfortable. As a fan of Harmony Korine, I know what he is and is capable of, I know he’s a joker, but I know he’s also a unique person who follows his vision to its end, whatever it may be, but you can never tell if you’re going to get something you’ll like. He gives you images and leaves you with thoughts. You don’t have to think too much during his movies — he doesn’t much either, so I doubt it having much subtext — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something worth talking about when they’re over. You may feel it’s a little, or it may feel like a little, but if you can appreciate what he’s trying to depict, there will always be life to talk about once a film of his concludes.
When I said you don’t have to think much during the films of Harmony Korine, that is not to say you should not think about them afterward. If you’ve shown given him your time and patience and watch the film to its ultimate conclusion, I doubt anyone can say they didn’t like or take something away from it. James Franco’s performance seems pretty revered – I would call it amazing. Some sequences will stick with you — Korine himself says he doesn’t really remember the plots of all the movies he’s loved, instead sequences or scenes — like Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. Okay, I was in a theater of five — three of them left, one of them during that segment. But if you sit through it all you’re certainly not going to forget it! And if you leave, well, you’re certainly not going to forget it, but you will resent it for the time and money it took, but that’s silly, don’t resent that stuff. Just enjoy the movie you see.
The film could be divided into halves – the first being the prelude to Spring Break and Spring Break and the second with James Franco. During the film, and it’s awful to think like this during movies because it only distracts you from the movie, I thought to myself “The direction is kind of shapeless, the juxtapositions could be sharper, but it does have edge and the repetition is effective, it’s vivid and it’s making me sick,” in a good way. That could be how I could summarize the film for someone, if they wanted, but the direction finds itself in the end. Otherwise those words can be my basis of thought for this movie, which is an otherwise unique movie-going experience.
As I write and think more about the film (I just got back) its nonstop audio/visual indulgence is so effective. Spring Breakers is a film that is very telling for this generation, if a little insane with its concept. “Just do it like a video game :: This is paradise :: Spring break forever ya’ll” things people today feel like. And of course, the repetition is done to unforgettable effect, but especially the line “You’re scared, aren’t ya? Scaredy cat” toward the end. Mmm… this is good cinema.
There’s a lot going on, a lot of ideologies passing and being shook up. The film doesn’t harp too much on these subjects, but they’re well realized. The writing and understanding of the characters are top notch – Alien and Faith in particular had touching storylines. Really towards the end of the film, as Alien talks more and we see more of him and Franco’s incarnation alone, it – his storyline – takes on an almost epic look at the contemporary gangland attitude. Why people do it, how hurt they are, what they seek, how lost they are – it’s touching. Unfortunately it’s hard to sell that way because it’s also very ugly in places and depressing and sickening.
The film begins with Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites to a montage of people having fun on a beach, but mostly overselling the bodies of women, which later become naked. Harmony Korine understands the flow of life, it’s probably because he’s lived so much, but there’s something to how he structures films that is special. The opening alone juxtaposes that — the music starts off jumpy and nice, the people are more clothed and wholesome looking, but then the song gets distorted and people are naked, people are drinking too much and it’s nuts. The next scene is of four friends passed out together in the same room – they’re all lying around, uninspired and one of them gets high while one of them is asleep. It’s a sad sight and intended to show you how these naked, happy people are also unfulfilled, at the end of the day. Even though we later learn — through details, it’s very incidentally understood — that those four girls have yet to go to spring break and that they want to go there (the opening scene could even be interpreted as a collective fantasy of theirs), our brain has a different impression at first. And that’s why Harmony Korine’s movies have to be watched and not thought about too much until the end because he’s trying to do something during and for after. Most filmmakers are so ideally all movies would be watched without too much thinking.
But those characters, they want to escape.. Eventually they get to spring break — everything is even funny and fun, they’re dancing all openly (even trying too hard and being slutty) on the bus. We get a lot of shots of that – the last film Benoit Debie shot was Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. There is a lot of camera movement and a lot of attention to detail within the frame, but a lot of editing that keeps it delirious. A lot of bouncing and a lot of things to see, so the cinematography itself isn’t easy to note, however it effectively stimulates and desensitizes you and for that you know it’s done its job. You know it’s done its job because it has captured so many exciting images to such an excessive degree that it hardly registers after, I don’t know, the third scene of zealous promiscuity. It becomes no longer eye catching. An hour into the film when Harmony Korine has Alien use the term “double penetration” I felt sick. Then he shows us the primal looking twins that would do it. The second half really pushes you – it is his vision.
Most important, thematically, the film is about our ideals and the journeys we must take to find our own. For Grace, the quietest one of the group, without any blonde hair and a firm belief in God, she finds solace in spring break and escaping the regiment of school and family. Staying in touch with everyone, staying in the same city — all of the girls are sick of the city, but she’s struggling with her faith. On the Florida beaches, she has so much fun as there is so much openness – she believes it’s the most spiritual place she’s been. I might too, after years of sameness and cyclical piousness. Someone behind me laughed at the idea of a spring break beach being spiritual. I myself thought it was beautiful, but it is funny. The movie is many things.
Then in a pool, Faith says she wants to live there forever. “Buy a house and all of us live in it” Her friends laugh at her — it’s completely unrealistic — but then they wind up in a situation where they can remain ocean side, indefinitely, and she fears it the most. It would be the only way all four of them could live there, like she believes in, but it scares her. It’s as if he dream came true only to become a nightmare. At the same time, the friends of her that were skeptical of her idealism wind up on a path towards her vision; ultimately climaxing with an unforgettable ending.
The end sequence — with Alien and the girls and the same speech when Faith was talking to her grandma — possesses many ideas and will likely leave everyone with a distinct impression. It’s idealistic, lost and hopeful all at once, but the juxtaposition is funny and disturbing. If this film is meant to be “the wildest spring break you can imagine” put to film, Korine’s vision is unremittingly wild and captures it all.
A lot can be said about Alien, too. Alien is an interesting character with a past surrounded by people struggling in the ghettos. Apparently he was the only white boy growing up – and now his best friend is his enemy on the block. Suddenly, there are two women he feels compelled to call soulmates (and it feels real, Franco makes you feel its authenticity for this character) and later on, during one of the scenes before the finale, it feels like a sad romance – at least to Alien. All for that money, all for that fame — everything to do with him is fascinating. His bashful smile when he says people recognize him on the street for one of his songs’ hooks. If James Franco were a less concerned actor, he would have portrayed this character as a more extreme Saul (from Pineapple Express) but he goes way beyond that in terms of thought, consideration and approach. There’s so much humor, but it’s also quite disturbing and sad – and in the end, there is poetic justice and for that, for me, the film is poignant in its approach to humanity.
Alternating between humor and despair – Harmony Korine captures the rawness of life with young characters with respect to their struggles and ideals and desires, but also showing the folly in them, as well as the righteousness. The good and the bad. Find yourself and find your path.
If you think about it, if the film were to have a sequel, how would their paths look like, once the credits have rolled? I think it’s beautifully in alignment with the nature of the world and the film’s characters. All of their paths, everything we see them go through all makes sense, doesn’t it? Cotty’s path, Brit’s path, Candy’s path, Faith’s path, Alien’s path, Archie’s path – it was more than satisfyingly realistic; it’s also cinematically satisfying. It doesn’t have a form and it is shapeless, but it does end and when it does, that gives its shape – both artistically, in its poetry, and literally as final bits of film, ending the reel. It happens that way because that’s how it is – I imagine it’s partly because Harmony Korine doesn’t believe in the end of films. “It never made sense to me. There is always more to life,” so I believe, then, that he sees life as it is – the past, the present and the future, whatever it holds, which is natural, rather than within of within the context of cinema, or artifice. The thing is, people are probably going into this movie expecting The Hangover rather than Trash Humpers – it’s super realistic and weirdly cinematic, not the other way around. It’s something else. Like Mister Lonely and his films before that, it is something else. Hypnotic or poetic. A slice of life you’ve never seen or understood before. At least I hadn’t – not with compassion, which Spring Breakers is steeped in; mostly for Harmony Korine’s observational approach, which could be voyeuristic, but there is a warmth in what he wants to communicate and does so effectively with tone. If the film has greater ambitions than being solely about spring break, it certainly feels it.
Good, measured acting from Selena Gomez, a wild, unhinged approach from Vanessa Hudgens and a solemn undercurrent of a score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex complete the film. Rachel Korine’s chameleonic work should not go ignored – she really disappears into that most lost role – nor should Ashley Benson who was finely unsettling. Ya’ll did good.