*Warning- Spoiler Alert*
‘Springbreakers’ follows four college girls who long to escape the confines of their painting-by-numbers life and journey to the Mecca of hedonism that is Spring Break in Florida. They fund their trip by robbing a local diner and quickly realize that crime can make all their dreams come true. Once they get to Miami, all of their depraved fantasies come to life; pool parties, copious amounts of alcohol and drugs and glorious, sun drenched beaches. The film takes a dark turn when they meet an up and coming crime lord/rapper called Alien (James Franco) who leads them further down the slippery slope of crime.
‘Springbreakers’ shirks conventional storytelling to revel in the neon fantasy world created by Harmony Korine, and the viewer is treated to an explosion of colour and noise like a waterfall of skittles. Korine continues his focus on nihilistic communities that have been central to all his films, but takes an aesthetic left turn by replacing VHS home video visuals for glamorous HD slow motion photography. The result is stupefying. The overwhelming visuals follow the most basic of formulas: TITS,ASS, GUN, BLUNT, BLUNT, GUN. At first, the audience is completely titillated by the slow motion footage of parties but as these images continue and persist, they eventually erode the surface of the sun kissed, party utopia to reveal a vapid world of senseless violence.
The film’s protagonists include two Disney stars (Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) running around in bikinis for 90 minutes in slow motion. Korine definitely revels in desecrating their image as innocent, family friendly stars, especially the cherub-faced Gomez who plays a Christian lured into temptation by the three wild girls. James Franco’s character is based on internet rapper sensation Riff Raffiand this film is worth the price of admission just to see his performance. Franco dons the silver grillz, the terrible tattoos and the whiteboy dreads and shows the girls all of the cool stuff he has-just as Riff Raff has showed the world in his videos, filmed primarily in his flat.
This entaglment with contemporary culture pushes the levels of meta-ness to ridiculous levels when when Franco’s character, Alien, mentions a video he directed called ‘hanging with da dopeboys.’ It didn’t take much research online to find that the song actually exists and Franco did actually direct it. Korine presents an uber-glossy, hedonistic fantasy world enmeshed with our world through contemporary music culture (Skrillex, Gucci Mane, Riff Raff) to show how it is ultimately hollow at its core. However, some of the playful metafictional interactions did not work at all. Who knew Gucci Mane couldn’t act: everyone. The seasoned rapper mumbles his entire dialogue as Franco’s nemesis and barely holds on the any shred of lucidity throughout the entire film. Mr. Mane only adds to the artificiality of the film as he is absolutely farcical as the bad guy. Even outside of Mane’s ‘performance’ the dialogue is as two dimensional as the characters who often repeat monologues and arguments inanely, often the protagonists don’t even believe in the dream they themselves have perpetuated.
The four girls repeat a mantra throughout the film: ‘Pretend like it’s a video game’ which acts as the central metaphor of the film; a simulation of a simulation. Korine does not claim to present any socially significant reality (the closest he gets is when one of the girls is surrounded by hungry eyed dudes in jock straps and is too drunk to escape) but instead an absolutely hollow spectacle for our Youtube generation. Alien’s relationship with the girls reaches it’s bizarre climax when the remaining two warrior princesses (Hudgens and Benson) have sex with him in his pool interspersed with Gucci Mane half asleep as a woman straddles him. But this unsettling combination of pre-battle sex scenes only further proves the emptiness of the fantasy world these characters live in. Whether or not Korine fully believes in his own scathing indictment of contemporary culture is complicated by the fact that while Springbreakers is dark and the characters are ultimately doomed, there is a lot of fun in this film. Korine enjoys the hedonistic ethos but understands the consequences of that life, he is caught in between criticizing the ‘brainless youths’ and buying a one way ticket to St. Petersburg and joining them.
I watched Gummo after watching Springbreakers and I couldn’t help but feel like the former had more humanity, albeit an absolutely twisted and warped it nonetheless had some poignant, thought provoking moments. Also, Korine is aiming for a niche audience with his bag of cultural references, and the film is a lot more enjoyable if you know who Riff Raff, Gucci Mane, and the ATL twins are. Outside of its rich cultural layer, Springbreakers is a simple film, of simple pleasures; bikinis, Riff Raff singing the classic Britney Spears song ‘Everytime,’ but redeems itself by showing the not so simple issues behind these pleasures, i.e the almost-rape scene, the weird racial sub-text. Unfortunately, the film is more concerned with the sensational pleasure of Spring break than with the complex issues it only lightly touches on.