Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring Breakers and the Defiance of Meaning

Of all the films I've seen this year, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is the most difficult to interpret. The plot screams exploitation film: four college girls rob a diner, go on a drug-and-booze-filled spring break, and wind up in the company of serious, violent gangs. However, Korine bends the narrative to avoid the classic exploitation lens, leaving the viewer asking a lot of questions -- not the least of which being, "Is he serious?!"

spring break forever

The chief way that Korine defies meaning is in motivation. Most exploitation films incorporate retribution -- slaves fighting their oppressors, women in a power struggle against men, etc. -- but not so in Spring Breakers. The only thing these college girls are struggling with is boredom. They feel that they absolutely must go out of town for spring break because nothing else will fill that Solo cup shaped hole in their hearts. Of course, it's not their responsibility to raise the money for such a trip. It's society's fault that they're boredom, dammit, so innocent diner customers must pay for their girlish shenanigans! Nevermind the fact that the ladies had enough cash to buy booze, coke, pot, and cigarettes; that was all from their drug allowance, not their travel funds.

But the girls seemingly have no true problems with their lives, so there's no real reason to support their conquest of hedonism. I mean, it's fantastic for college-aged women to strive beyond mediocrity, but I'm not sure that doing lines of blow off of someone's ass will help them raise to the challenge. It comes as no surprise when they are arrested during a drug-filled party, but it's difficult to muster any sympathy for them. Perhaps the girls would be more sympathetic if they entered the courtroom wearing clothes or robes. Instead, Korine avoids the serious by leaving his actresses in just bikinis. If you get bored of the dialogue, never fear! You can simply stare at some skin until the action picks back up again.

Such moments happen frequently throughout the film, undermining any sort of women-kicking-ass vibe Korine may have envisioned. It's true that the most successful criminal elements of the movie are executed by women, but they aren't better off for it. Instead of becoming a team of badass Foxy Browns, the girls are just as bored and lifeless as they were before. They gain nothing and lose nothing.

Perhaps Spring Breakers' ethos warns us against the dangers of ennui. If the only thing that moves us is a Britney Spears song from 2004, what does that say about us? Or maybe the movie is all style and little substance. Let's be real: going on spring breaker probably will not result in you getting shot and staging a massacre at a gangster's compound. If it does, I hope you feel something, or else I won't be able to elicit sympathy for you. Even if I don't feel empathy for the characters, one thing is certain: Spring Breakers is beautiful to look at, although it leaves something to be desired when watched.

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