‘Girls Gone Wild’ With a Splash of David Lynch: A Review of Harmony Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers

The four leading ladies of 'Spring Breakers'.

The four leading ladies of ‘Spring Breakers’.

Once the film is finished and the credits are rolling, it is hard not to feel somehow cheated.  I forgive films that do not have much plot so long as they have character development (though I am far less forgiving of films that forsake character development in favour of plot), but Spring Breakers had neither, or at least very little of each.

Writer/director Harmong Korine... when he was young and thin.  I was also once much thinner.

Writer/director Harmong Korine… when he was young and thin. I was also once much thinner.

This seems a departure for Harmony Korine, the screenwriter and director who shot to fame after penning the screenplay for the controversial Larry Clark film Kids when we was still just a teen himself.  It also seems out of character for James Franco, whose performance as a drug dealer named Alien seemed cartoonish throughout the film, like a poorly written sketch character on Saturday Night Live, and though the frequent nudity of beautiful young women was enjoyable from a heterosexual-male perspective, critically it may come across as gratuitous.

 

Vanessa Hudgens, star if Spring Breakers.  This show is from the film Sucker Punch.  I think she looks much better with black hair than with blonde.

Vanessa Hudgens, star of Spring Breakers. This show is from the film Sucker Punch. I think she looks much better with black hair than with blonde.

To appreciate this film, one needs to take a step back to consider Korine’s fractured style of narrative disjunction, and it is fractured.  On the count of gratuitous nudity, it is important to note that none of the lead characters are publicly nude in the film.  The nudity we see is in the context of parties where many nameless women go topless before people they in all likelihood do not know.  They are anonymous women who have been incorporated into a herd and are behaving as the rest of the inebriated herd does.  This is an important point critically.  Inebriation and herd behaviour merge to create a carnivalesque atmosphere where traditional morals are rejected and autonomy is usurped by the collective.  The people rescind their free will and become part of the crowd.  Questions of morality are forgone in a setting not dissimilar to the Asch conformity experiments.  It is what is called the Bandwagon Effect, or Herd Behaviour, or as Orwell might call it: Groupthink.  The film’s excessive alcohol and drug use, combined with excessive nudity and violence, may seem gratuitous on the surface, but it does serve to demonstrate a point.

Selena Gomez as the aptly named 'Faith' in Spring Breakers.  The Christina gone wild wears a cross that has been turned on its side.

Selena Gomez as the aptly named ‘Faith’ in Spring Breakers. The Christian gone wild wears a cross that has been turned on its side.

There is also the lack of character development.  Save the character of Faith, played by Selena Gomez, none of the female protagonists of the film seem to have an identity outside of the group.  Indeed, it is even a challenge to remember the names of the other three girls and likely impossible for anybody save the screenwriter to know which name belongs to which girl.  Even Faith, up to the point when she leaves, is still going along with the group, as she is situated as a member of a Christian youth unit (lead by a preacher played brilliantly by pro-wrestler Jeff Jarrett).  Faith is drawn by two incompatible groups and must choose one.  The other three girls, however, are an amalgamation of each other.  When trying to raise the funds for their spring-break trip to Florida, the three girls decide to rob a restaurant.  Whose idea is it?  It is unclear.  We see the girls frolicking about, engaging in childlike activities, as a voiceover articulates the plan.  The three voices mingle with each other, but it is not clear which voice belongs to which girl, and so we are left again with the anomalous influence of the group.  No one girl made the decision, but rather it was the group.  This distancing from the self is reinforced by the fact that the girls wear masks for the crime and later in the film put on masks again whilst also wearing uniforms, making it utterly impossible for the audience to identify who is who.  They do not identify with their choices but rather meld into the group and allow their autonomy to be usurped.  Even Faith  is an accomplice after the fact. She praises the girls for what they have done because it allows her to go on the trip, and she accepts the spoils of sin.

Another shot of Vanessa Hudgens from Sucker Punch.  She just looked SO good int hat film!  Here she is with fellow beauty Carla Gugino.

Another shot of Vanessa Hudgens from Sucker Punch. She just looked SO good in that film! Here she is with fellow beauty Carla Gugino.

As for the cartoonish nature of Alien, the drug dealer played by Franco, he is cartoonish.  He portrays an exaggerated, romanticised character, but he is not that is far off from the romantic notions of drug dealers presented in many contemporary hip-hop songs and a number of films.  Many rap artists boast about having been drug dealers and such a lifestyle is frequently idealized and romanticized in hip-hop.  Franco’s character reflects this mentality.  Alien is a lampooning or a satirization of this false ideal.  There is no substance to Alien.  There is no thought process.  He is not an intelligent character who sees himself as an example of a capitalist hero like we see in the film Blow, but rather an ignorant, unthinking parrot.  Calling him a parrot would of course be unfair to parrots because aside from simple mimicry, he is also a loathsome, selfish character.  He thinks only about self-gratification and does not consider how the consequences of his actions will affect those around him. There are problems with romanticizing such a character.

James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers.  The grill and cornrows do not flatter him.

James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers. The grill and cornrows do not flatter him.

Moreover, the fractured presentation of the narrative allows for some interesting juxtaposition.  Korine has voiceovers looping throughout, like a chorus, some from scenes that have yet to happen, others from earlier in the film, which allows us to reconsider the dialogue in a different context.  This is effective in encouraging the viewer to consider the authenticity not only of certain maxims presented, but also the sincerity of our own voices.  How do we portray ourselves to different people?  One example of such a chorus is the line: “Spring break forever!”  In its initial context it is quickly embraced by the half-naked inebriated mass, but later, when the viewer sees the consequences of such amoral, unthinking behaviour, it becomes clear how foolish such a maxim is.  One is reminded of how frustratingly annoying the douche bags who use the phrase “YOLO” as life advice can truly be.

Rachel Korine in Spring Breakers.  I heard she had to sleep with the director to get this role.

Rachel Korine in Spring Breakers. I heard she had to sleep with the director to get this role.

As for the acting, it is hard to judge.  Jeff Jarrett is great as the Christian youth leader, and Gomez is adequate.  There is little doubt that Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, both alums of Disney productions, were perhaps hoping to shed their reputations as child stars with adult roles that are more becoming of their age.  If this was the goal, then the problem is that the roles are still quite childish and do not give the actors the opportunity to showcase their talent.  The roles are consistent with the storyline, but they demand the actors to recede into the group and to not stand out.

Another publicity shot from Spring Breakers.

Another publicity shot from Spring Breakers.

Overall, Spring Breakers is a film that demands an active viewer.  It demands that the viewer consider carefully what is before them.  It does not take the viewer by the hand and lead them to a conclusion.  Viewers who need plot will not be satisfied, even if they are heterosexual males who greatly enjoy the frequent nudity. Those who want traditional character development will be disappointed.  But for those looking for a challenge to traditional narrative structures, the film can be potentially satisfying, even if it does not entertain in the way that a more traditional film might and even if there was room to say a little more (there is a scene that could have easily led to a rape and it would have been interesting to see how that would have played out in the context of this film).  It is like Girls Gone Wild with a splash of David Lynch, but just a splash.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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