18 April 2013

Thoughts on Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine has finally made his pop movie and it might just be the most definitive piece of art made about this sweaty, writhing, ritualistic mass of American grotesquery known as spring break.

What goes on at places like St. Pete Beach is a truly surreal subcultural phenomenon ripe for documenting, and Korine does this sun-kissed Sodom and Gomorrah justice by not only surveying its obvious seductive hedonism, but also the complex moral implications of those who willingly participate. His four female leads act almost as Dantean test subjects, descending further into the dark heart of spring break until only those who prove amorally pure can subsume the true mantle of “Spring Breaker”.

Korine frames this the only way he knows how, through a heightened form of reality whose guiding mantra dictates: “Just pretend it’s like a videogame; like it’s a movie”. In what may be his only transparently drawn social critique, he flattens the moral landscape in accordance to its perceived value. The iconography of Scarface and flashy boardwalk arcades bleeds through the hyper-saturated neon, and in true videogame fashion there is a final boss and an orgiastic gun-battle finale, which takes place at a Tony Montana-styled criminal fortress.

But are the Breakers who emerge from the bloodbath victorious to be celebrated or reviled? This is where Korine shows surprising amounts of restraint, unwilling to deem the gat-toting avenging angels as either fallen souls or empowered saints outright. The real answer is somewhere between the two. The Breakers’ telephoned check-ins with mum and dad in the closing scenes are hilariously deceptive; a possible indication of their ultimate disillusionment from reality. But they also read like the calming assurances of girls who have made peace with the monster within. The girls who manage to shoot their way to the finish line do so out of free will and determination, and considering the materialistic and nihilistic lifestyle they fought to defend, that’s as scary as it is admirable.

It’s a stroke of genius not to have all the girls be four parts of the same whole; an agency-robbing hive mind. Selena Gomez’s Faith quickly finds that what was initially sold to her as a spiritual quest has indeed led to spiritual destitution, where rooms are rife with skeezy guys asserting their male gaze in uncomfortable, genuinely threatening ways. That pool hall scene simmers with enough racial/sexual subtext to fuel its own movie (we’ll leave it to Larry Clark to tackle that one). Her hasty departure from the group subsequently feels completely justified—that point is probably where most sane people would yell “Stop the ride. I want to get off.” Unfortunately for her, spring break isn’t for sane people—and that’s where Korine’s fascination begins.

Korine’s ambiguity, or rather his non-committal stance towards moralising, allows the film to toe a tricky line between relish and repulsion: the adrenaline rush of a crime spree or an occasional drunken hotel fuckfest isn’t denied. Yet there’s no escaping the self-destructive pall that hangs over the mounting excess.

“Look at all my shit,” I imagine the film saying to us. “Redistribution of phallic symbolism y’all. Undressing the hedonist fantasy up on screen, y’all. Pretty lights in every colour, y’all.” This collective dream of the MTV generation, powered by sexual and societal liberation, which adheres to its own warped logic and holds its cherished cultural signifiers dear, is an endlessly fascinating, quintessentially American concoction. Essentially a designated window for primal transgressions that somehow snuck up the ranks to become a legitimate rite-of-passage, spring break is loud and obnoxious and bizarre and singular and I can’t look away.


Pierre Badiola


  1. hahaa, this is why I love film blogging its such a diverse range of views, I thought it was the worse movie ever, but hety here at cinehouse and The People's movies we respect all views even if we liked the film or not.

    maybe Im not gangsta enough or can sign a britney spears song

  2. The film paints a fairly accurate portrait of this generation we all live in and at the same time, making a comment. For that bold step, the movie deserves praise. Nice review Pierre.

    1. Thanks Dan! It was more a rambling series of thoughts that started on tumblr than a review, but I'm glad we both saw worth in it. Spraaang Brayyk Foevahh!