There’s no question that Spring Breakers is the most talked about film of the year so far. However, when it comes to the conversation actually surrounding the film, word is decidedly more ambiguous, between Disney fans taking to Twitter to express their confusion, and the countless think pieces that have attempted to decipher writer-director Harmony Korine’s intentions.
And that’s understandable, really. Because Spring Breakers is a movie that oscillates so frequently between moments of arch irony and unabashed poeticism (often within the same sequence) that it’s not only easy, but also logical to make the assumption that Korine is just completely messing with us. Maybe he is on some level too. Yet what’s so memorable, and frankly, so special about Spring Breakers is the extent to which the film isn’t a joke, and to which Korine’s demented drug trip of a generational breakdown manifests itself through outright sincerity.
Naturally, this being a Harmony Korine film, the comparison to a drug trip fits both its literal content and experiential nature. From the opening alone, as Skrillex blares on the soundtrack and you’re confronted with a barrage of images of nubile teenagers partying like there’s no tomorrow, the film announces its intentions as a full-on assault on the senses.
Local was lucky enough to talk with legendary music supervisor Randall Poster (frequent collaborator of everyone from Martin Scorsese to Wes Anderson, as well as Korine himself), and he described to us how “Harmony wanted to weave the Skrillex energy and emotion into a more comprehensive and extensive run of film music,” in an attempt to “create something magically coherent.” Indeed, while Korine ultimately seems to have his opinions about spring break culture (and they don’t appear to be positive), he still manages to use that aesthetic barrage to capture the transcendence experienced by our scantily clad protagonists. You laugh as Selena Gomez talks in voiceover about how this is the most spiritual place she’s ever been, yet the poetic quality of Korine’s filmmaking finds a kernel of understanding in that, even as his images of spring break quickly become more nightmarish than ethereal in their dreaminess.
It’s a balance between dreaminess and drugged out remembrance that even rather brilliantly shapes the film’s editorial structure, as particular scenes, lines, and images are repeated to great effect. In the beginning moments of mundane college tedium, multiple flashes of the same bong hit conjure up the girls’ sense of boredom, yet even by the time they arrive at spring break, the repetitions continue, and convey their restless need for further instant gratification. It’s a twist on MTV style as cinema for the ADD generation, and like everything else in the film – from the music, to Benoît Debie’s stunning, neon-soaked anamorphic cinematography – it serves to help you empathize with these girls.
Again, that’s not to say that Korine condones their behavior either; from the time of Kids and onwards, he’s repeatedly established himself as one of modern film’s most eccentric moralists, but this heightened sense of understanding renders the film something both deeper and harder to parse than simple satire. The brilliant (and soon-to-be iconic) montage scored to Britney Spears’ “Everytime” doubles as both further dissection of popular culture iconography, and a strange, momentary oasis of female empowerment, as the girls turn the tables on the motel room creeps that attempted to exploit them previously. Like Fight Club and Natural Born Killers, it’s social commentary that manages to have its cake and eat it too. And like those films, it (by definition) invites the interpretation that it’s working as mere over-the-top provocation, when in actuality, that’s just one of the many levels that the film is simultaneously operating and commenting on.
Perhaps most emblematic example of Korine’s impressive juggling act of parody and sincerity is found in the film’s breakout character – rapper/entrepreneur/drug dealer/gunrunner/Calvin Klein Escape enthusiast Alien, played with stunning dedication by James Franco, a master of projects with questionable ironic intentions. On the surface, Alien is a joke: a cartoon composite of every viral white boy rapper you can imagine, by way of Jay Gatsby in the age of RiFF RAFF. However, as skin-crawlingly creepy as he is when he strokes Selena Gomez’s face and tells her that he cares about her, you get that sense that he really means it. Beneath it all, Alien is a scared, weirdly sweet kid, desperate to psych himself up before the climactic shootout, when he’d really rather hang back and enjoy his blue Kool-Aid and Scarface on repeat (on constant, y’all). That is to say, he’s a real person, albeit one that Korine finds the inherent absurd humor in. In Harmony Korine’s hellscape depiction of spring break, there’s an inner life, and a sadness, behind even the broadest of walking punchlines. Spring break forever, y’all.