March 24, 2013

Hard Livin': Understanding Spring Breakers

What is the end point of our national obsession with sex, violence, and materialism? All of the most popular blockbusters contain a "healthy" level of violence, with numerous heroes but super and none beating "bad" guys to a pulp. Moving away from movies, TV is no different with popular shows like "The Walking Dead," "The Following," and "Breaking Bad" all pushing extreme violence on their blood thirsty viewers. Obviously video games are no different with the most popular games "Call of Duty," "Grand Theft Auto," and "Halo" heavily featuring a balanced menu of guns, guts, and virtual glory. And as for sex, take a look around, it's everywhere and it's nowhere. Thanks to the Internet, porn is more readily available than ever. Through magazines, brand advertisements, TV shows, and movies, the mass-media frequently promotes hyper sexuality, but shrinks away at showing what actual healthy sex really is. I know it's been said before but is is easier to get away with a character slicing someone's head in half than it is with showing a naked body. And as for materialism, well that's just standard American belief structure, doesn't matter if you call it the"pursuit of happiness" or "Stacks on Stacks on Stacks," it's all the same general concept. Nothing defines this culture of excess like the concept of "Spring Break," at one week period you it's ok spend way too much money on travel and accommodations and break all sorts of laws while partying your ass off.

But anyway I'm started to sound a lil' old fashioned, after all I love violent movies/video games/ TV shows and yes even I have been on some wild "spring breaks." Yet I've never really wondered where these media extremes are taking us as a culture. Thankful, film director Harmony Korine does and it answers it brilliantly in his new film "Spring Breakers." What is that answer? A total break from reality.

The concept of the film is simple. Four college girls dream of going on Spring Break but aren't financially able to. They want to go for a variety of reasons including being cool and being crazy but the one that reigns supreme is a break for the norm. In order to do this they successfully rob a local restaurant and make off with all the cash they need to finance their Spring Break dreams. In order to get pumped for the robbery they say "Just get that cash, pretend like it's a video game," and "act like you're in a movie!" Prophetic words for the rest of the story.

At first the girls have a blast at Spring Break. You know what I'm talking about! Our parents called it Sex! Drugs! Rock & Roll! Today people just categorize it all under the concept of YOLO and celebrate the pursuit of hedonism with neon pink outfits and chemically designed drugs. Eventually they're busted for their partying and end up in jail which is a total buzz-kill. Not to worry promptly bailed out of jail by rapper-criminal Alien (James Franco) who is surrounded by everything that defines excess culture. He calls himself a baller, he has crazy silver teeth, money, guns, and in a genius move considers himself to be some type of blunted out street poet. As he says in a hilarious scene he has "tons of shit" which is the simplest way to save he's living a material life.  Yet soon, he promptly wraps the girls up in a life of crime, robbing their former partying cohorts at gunpoint, shooting shotguns into the night sky, and having group sex on top of money and guns! In now time at all, the girls are pretty much Alien's gangster soldiers in his war with his former best friend and current rival Big Arch (Gucci Mane).

What makes Spring Breakers brilliant is how far our hedonistic culture can take you if you let it run rampant. Korine frequently cuts to random strangers partying (sometimes naked) and over time it becomes numbing, which I believe was his intention. Over the course of the film, characters depart Florida either by bus or by bullet and as each one leaves the story, whoever is left gets deeper and deeper into depravity and become more soulless.


At the end of the film, in a very Scarface like finale, our two bikini clad sex kitten spring break warrior babes and their father/lover/mentor Alien lead an assault on Big Arch's beach mansion. Alien dies quickly, without getting off a shot, the reason for this being that he isn't "hard" or "real" enough after all. Like many wanna-be gangsters, he's all fiction, aka he's fronting. But our Spring Breakers, the same girls who did the robbery and stuck around after their friends left, they're the real deal. In a brilliant camera move at the end of the film, the camera (and such the world) literally turns upside down and nothing is real anymore. . . YOLO indeed as the characters become the the video game characters they once said they should pretend to be. They're impervious to bullets and kill a ridiculousness amount of bad guys without getting a scratch on their bangin bikini bodies. This is the end point of our obsession with sex, money and violence - a total break for reality. Excess has trumped morality. Real life does not exist at this stage of hard living.

And yet the end of the film as the two babes drive into the sunset in their newly claimed Lamborghini they look empty. They've broken free from reality and found...nothing. That is what Korine is saying with this film. At the end of excess, at the end of all the parties, drugs, techno, money, and as Alien puts it "all types of shit," lies an hollow meaningless life. After all if Spring Break never ends, it just becomes a new type or boring hell.

1 comment:

  1. You make two really interesting points here, Tim. One is the numbing effect of those repetitive spring break images -- the ones from the beginning, brought back on endless loop throughout the movie. At first we think we're watching MTV, and a glorification of hedonism. But with each successive callback they feel emptier and emptier, to the point that we don't think much of them at all -- they're just white noise, the boring status quo. We've allowed excess to become our new national norm. Imagine the kind of insanity it takes for us to really wake up.

    The second, and it's something that I was probably too tired to register on Saturday, is this "world turned upside down" ending. SUPER telling that Franco bites it almost immediately into that final assault, and the ease with which Benson and Hudgens mow down the guys in their path -- it's almost superhuman. They're the "real deal" (whatever that means here), the final embodiment of their earlier call to "just treat it like a videogame." It is, no joke, exactly like 10 different missions from Vice City.