Every now and then I see a film that irritates the hell out of me; and then I get excited, because I know something special is happening before my eyes and inside my mind.
On the surface (and as many critics have pointed out), Spring Breakers is a boredom-induced phantasmagoria of nakedness, intoxication, violent interludes and then there are a few dull sex parts. Carefully manufactured American sensationalism at its finest. But such banal imagery is only skin-deep. Writer and director Harmony Korine’s surrealist (likely his most agreeably descriptive mode) oscillations constantly undermine our understanding of his characters and plot arch, to the point of near exhaustion, to point of mockery, to the point that the audience member is forced to question his own American-bred, sensationalist sympathies – blow by blow, Korine extinguishes the dopamine cloud, forcing us to pry these sympathies out from their mechanism and investigate their limitations.
The film is about four girls who have decided that they’re going to have a fun spring break, and that nothing is going to stop them from participating in that collegiate migration down to somewhere warm where they can let loose and shunt their responsibilities as students, even their identities as functional members of society, if just for one sun-kissed week (we have no tangible sense of time). No one ever said that surrealism made for good plots. Korine has intended to remind us of this likelihood by threading along an overdubbed refrain of the movie’s primary thematic premise – a kind of meta gag – “It’s spring break, bitches,” and “Spring break forever.” – over and over, during and in between scenes; as plot scaffolding, this is entirely superficial and begins to echo absurd as the movie progresses. Then there is the loud arming “Click!” of a pistol, which Korine alternates with the refrain, as a kind of coarsely annoying reminder that, yes, there are guns, and, yes, there are also girls in bikinis. If this is all sounding a bit Lynchian, that’s good, because it should be. The very fact that James Franco, a female heart-throb, has been cast as the shabby, wildly immature, repulsive, gold-toothed thug should render a convincing-enough case. But Korine compresses layer after layer, and digs in deep.
There are some overtly recursive ironies, which in this case, of course are not ironies at all but perfect thematic syllogisms. Here’s one: the “good” girl’s name, played by Selena Gomez, is Faith. Faith attends a Christian-based educational institution, and shortly after getting out of jail, decides that she just can’t hang any longer, and goes home. Drifting in the tides of Korine’s Lynchian hyperbole, Faith is rendered absurd, and after being repeatedly ostracized for her goodness, is excommunicated from the story. But again, there is another twist: at the moment when the party was beginning to get wild, Faith was mocked for her own expressionistic desires to have it all last forever. “This is how it should always be.” – a truly ironical dialogue, overtly non-syllogistic. Butironically (this is the humor of Korine), this is the ephemeral instant in which Faith ceases to be absurd; she is exactly what she shouldn’t be: giving into temptation, ensnared by the proposition of a Sybaritic existence, self-absorbed. And right when Faith dips her head back underneath the surface of the pool (perhaps in biblical symbolism), her markedly more deviant friends ironically ridicule her transience, despite their own improbable disillusionment of everlasting adventure. How does Korine finally settle all of this topsyturvyness? He doesn’t. He leaves the absurdly normal to bob around against the normally absurd, unresolved.
Although Korine has cast the “wrong” man (James Franco) for the part, he’s made his character, Alien, well, just that, an alien: a Caucasian man who lives in a homogenously African American world. And his gangster progenitor? An African American named Archie. And it turns out, Alien is even an alien to himself, vulnerable and looking for an identity which he finds in his sexually entrancing spring break girls, who at once appear to be manipulated jailbait, and at the next turn, manipulate the manipulator. In this case, it’s the very irony of his character that makes his name non-ironical, which might just be Lynchian irony at its most perverse.
The seemingly archaic, allegorical character naming in Spring Breakers is pronounced and seems, in general, consistent among the main characters: of course, there is Faith, who is not entirely inviolable, but who recoups her faith and cannot be seduced atrocious. But then there is Brit, the perfectly normal name of the girl who goes home second because she is shot in the arm and is only human; once the pain of a sizzling bullet enters her nervous system, she is disillusioned. Candy and Cotty end up being the two lasting sensational exponents; and why not? Doesn’t cotton candytypify that junk food which feels good to eat at first, but leaves you coming away with nothing, if not a stomach ache or a head ache or unneeded calories?
In regards to the unresolved bobbing around of ironies, of the absurdly normal abutting the normally absurd, an analogy of my own comes to mind: Korine’s characters are like subatomic particles and the degree to which they are deterministic is described by something in quantum mechanics, called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal. Observing perfectly both the position of a particle and its momentum is impossible; they’re mutually exclusive observations, the accuracy of each measure exactly proportional to that amount by which the other measure is inaccurate. Each of Korine’s characters has a position – the “position” is what she’s saying – and a momentum – the “momentum” is what she’s doing. Now looking at it all under a teleological microscope, there are copious scenes in which a firm grasp on where a particular ridicule might come from (Faith being made fun of for her daydreaming), a perverse ambition (wanting to go on spring break, no matter what, and then wanting spring break and all of its excesses to extend infinitely into the future), or whatever, is impossible; there is no explanation for the ungroundedness; the character origins that cause the remarks simply cannot be determined, but emerge like structural tremors, jolting the plot forward. In these moments, when what is said seems counterintuitive, given even the fickle contextual basis for the judgment, what the characters are doing is completely uninteresting: there is no homoerotic grazing, no simian violence, no cocaine; we know exactly what they are doing and are these the same girls we just saw rampaging a diner for loot? Flip the tables: when what the characters are doing becomes difficult to explain or retrospectively trace, when they are out rampaging (yes, assaulting people and stealing their money), or inventing reciprocal Stockholm Syndrome (the girls pointing Alien’s guns at him), or murdering, or wearing silly, pink ski masks and dancing around a grand piano like Matisse’s women of “La Danse,” waving assault rifles at a kaleidoscopic sunset, when this happens, we are asking: how the hell is this happening? But in the meantime, all the girls want is for Alien to “play [them] a song. Something inspirational.” We have identified their position, but their momentum seems unknowable. This is one of Korine’s oscillations.
The moment at which Korine makes his Lynchian fixation most obvious is when, on the piano, during “La Danse,” Alien begins to play – of course, unfittingly (though, his vulnerability may match him up well with the song, but at this point, any exacting linearity in character or plot makes the pairing even more absurd, whether through the meta, or through the recursive) – the ballad by Brittany Spears called “Everytime,” as in, “Everytime I try to fly, I fall. Without my wings, I feel so small…” As the music progresses, we observe the flashing traces of violent escapades executed by the girls and Alien. And don’t forget: “It’s spring break, bitches,” and it might last forever.
At this point, the line “It’s spring break, bitches,” is basically meaningless, and it’s my guess that this is what Korine had wanted. In a rain of Lynchianisms and the constantly oscillating context of what is actually Lynchian, Korine forces us to address our own tendencies toward sensationalism. The hung over high school boys (in this case, perhaps the most useful correlative sensationalist demographic) expecting to see an orgy of action sequences unfold beneath the shadows of smooshing breasts, Vanessa Hutchens’ quavering, projected tongue, will, indeed, get what they’d expected. But here’s the catch: they may feel as though they’ve been so stretched and plied and pulled and jarred that the satisfaction of their original expectations is not enough; that, as the remaining two girls are, in one frame, explaining to a concerned relative how much her spring break experience has made her a better human being, and in the next, are shown murderously tearing through Archie’s bunker, the expectations have changed.
“Is this really what I wanted?” asks the movie-goer.
“Well, yes, given the minimal criteria,” Korine might say. “Now, let me show you how hollow and pointless being so inclined can feel. Here’s some cotton candy.”
At the end of the film, after an accelerating frequency of oscillations, the viewer is left with basically nothing: no resolution of the ironies, no teleological grounding, and like a spit ball in the collective ear of the audience, Korine has each of the remaining two girls kiss their suddenly gunned-down and utterly dead “soul mate,” Alien, as if to demonstrate how all of the preceding events might have been explained and reconciled in another film – in the film which Korine did not create, the one in which ironies are not distorted by ironies which are not distorted by ironies which are not further distorted by ironies (and so on…). The kiss comes off as an unapologetic, meta gesture, letting us know that there’s no good explanation, so don’t ask; that irony is not mathematical, and that if it is, it involves limits to infinity (the meta version) and limits to zero (the recursive version), so again, don’t ask.
As far as making a positive qualification of this film, all I can say is that I was left with a headache. But it rendered this-here floating, I think, appropriately discursive essay, so decide for yourself whether or not there was any value beyond sensational sublimation.