Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers ★★★★

*I'm going to spoil this movie a few times, but I don't think that it's a movie that can be ruined through spoilers.

I can already tell that Spring Breakers is the best film of 2013. It's a perfect film that gets better with repeat viewings, and it has enough layers that the viewer will leave each viewing with a different interpretation of the film, discovering new details and reading scenes in different ways. The film opens with the credits being played over the sound of the ocean, and suddenly transitions into Skrillex and slow-motion partying; this sets the pacing for the film, and if the viewer isn't immediately thrown off, Korine spends the rest of the film attempting to distance the viewer from the material.

The film operates as a dream, or a memory--an odyssey through a Spring break wonderland and a slow descent into Hell. Korine tells the story out of chronology and utilizes repetition to create a timeless atmosphere and present multiple perspectives of every image and sound. Colours blend together, non-diagetic sound effects of guns repeat, and scenes are shown over and over again, repeated dialogue and repeated scenes. Korine employs these techniques and achieves two things: first, the film looks and sounds unlike anything else I've seen, an explosion of colour and sound that gives the film an original atmosphere; secondly, Korine uses these techniques as a block between the viewers and the film, forcing them to critically look at the commentary he presents and preventing them from engaging with the behaviour portrayed.

The film looks absolutely amazing, and Korine's cinematographer Benoît Debie creates a hyper-reality of rich colours and excess. Every shot of the film is framed incredibly, perfectly capturing the image of Spring break culture through the perspective of the girls. The film opens with bright light and sun, but as the girls descend into the criminal underworld (and deeper into Hell) the film becomes darker and more ethereal, with violent purple neon within a chiaroscuro composition. Bright pinks and yellows contrast with absolute blackness, the girls stand out among the grimy underbelly of the city.

The film also captures a lot of beauty within the excesses of the partying and crime. Over-exposed shots of the girls dancing at sundown, their silhouettes against harsh light, are stunning shots that I would compare to the naturalistic compositions of a Terrance Malick film. [Note: I don't mean to sound like Korine is trying to do Malick though, this film has a very different visual style that relies on making the disturbing beautiful (as is apparent in all of Korine's work; i.e, bacon on a bathroom wall), as opposed to Malick's poetic look at the natural world.] The film looks so damn pretty, especially the costume designs; I can't think of anything that looks better than three girls in matching pink ski-masks, sweat pants that say "DTF" on them, and pink sneakers. This film is a visual feast, and trying to explain the beauty of it is a difficult task, so you might as well just watch the film.

Although the visuals are wonderfully composed and infinitely engaging, Korine puts up blockades to complicate the film's form, making it difficult for the viewers to engage with the narrative. The film is edited in a way that removes all temporal boundaries, and Korine allows different scenes to overlap and repeat, confusing the chronology of the story and making the film feel like a shared memory, a story being told by a group of friends after the fact as each of them interjects to add their perspective and confusing the order of events. There is a lot of interesting cross-cutting that compares different scenes and foreshadows what will happen next. The editing is very purposeful in what it shows the viewer, and the repetition works to highlight important ideas and give each scene an objective view. For example, one scene shows the girls reenacting their robbery, and it presents the scene from each of the character's perspectives, giving the viewer new information that was restricted from them the first time the scene was shown.

Using editing as a distancing mechanism allows Korine to emphasize the inherent problems with the culture portrayed in the film. Like radical film makers of the New Wave, Korine complicates the film in order to force the viewer to think about what they are being shown--he doesn't want the viewer to passively engage with the party culture of the film, but instead wants to compromise the portrayal of the partiers and make the viewer question the morality of the content in the film. It also makes the film more dream-like, and gives ambiguity to whether or not the film's portrayal of events is trustworthy, perhaps the narrative isn't how it appears and the viewer is being presented with false perspectives (or incorrect memories).

Another distancing mechanism in the film is the prevalence of gun sound effects that are played throughout the film, usually to complement transitions or emphasize actions. These effects work towards enhancing the film's violent culture, and the film constantly uses the sound to associate upper-class party culture with lower-class gang violence. Besides this, the film's overall sound design is absolutely perfect, one of the best I've ever heard. Voices blend with the score and the mix portrays varying atmospheres that complement the images perfectly. There is a montage set to Britney Spears "Everytime", which is probably the Korine's greatest artistic achievement. The scene wonderfully blends the song's sexual and satisfactory pop rhythm with excessive and indulgent violence, which creates the most beautiful scene in the film. The score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex is also perfect, they know how to influence mood through music.

The film has fantastic characters that each have an arc. Each of the girls leaves their hometown looking for their first real adult experience, and each of them discovers that they aren't adult enough to handle it. Selena Gomez's character, Faith, is the first to experience a moral crisis and realize that their Spring break wonderland was a lot darker than they thought. The other girls are also humbled by their experiences and grow as people because of their actions, they get caught up in the party culture, then they get too deeply involved in the criminal underworld, eventually leaving with a larger understanding of the world and all of its horrors.

There is currently a problematic argument involving the politics of Spring Breakers that has been circulating; many critics have argued that Korine's film takes a position that supports "rape culture". I entirely disagree with this interpretation, and I believe that the film promotes the opposite. One criticism against the film is that the first scene--and a large majority of the party scenes--objectifies women by presenting them as sexualized objects being used by men, however, the film equally degrades men and women during these scenes. The men are presented like animals, pretending to masturbate with beer-bottle cocks and performing other lude behaviours. The women aren't presented as sex objects; Korine is sexualizing party culture itself, along with all of the people and activities involved, so that he can create the party image that the main characters want to experience. The scenes fetishize all aspects of the Spring break experience, establishing an atmosphere of degradation, perversity, and excess.

The main characters are strong women that make intelligent decisions, never becoming victims of the masculine party experience. Before the girls are arrested (when they exist in the white, upper-class sphere), men constantly attempt to take advantage of them; an example of this is when Cotty (Rachel Korine's character) is coerced into taking off her top while drinking with a bunch of privileged white partiers. She shows her breasts because that is part of the party culture that the girls want to be a part of, and rather than fetishizing the scene, Korine and his cinematographer Benoît Debie present the scene voyeuristically. Like a Degas painting, Korine and Debie use the scopophilic gaze to condemn the viewer for engaging with Spring break culture. The film implicates the viewer for allowing women to be objectified, and by doing so forces the viewer to assess their role in perpetuating the masculine party sphere.

Candy and Brit (Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson) are able to escape this masculine sphere of party culture when they enter Alien's (James Franco) lower-class domain. Within Alien's outsider sphere, the two girls are given the confidence to force guns down his throat and make him fellate their guns. Outside of the masculine party environment, the girls are empowered to an even level with Alien, and they no longer feel a need to take their tops off due to cultural expectations. The girls do what they want to do, and Alien supports their dominant personalities and behaviour--and to be clear, Alien is not the reason for this empowerment, as Cotty, Brit, and Candy already had strength, but were being oppressed. Faith isn't involved in the second half of the film, as she is strong enough to stand above pressure from her peers, and she leaves Spring break when she feels too uncomfortable to continue.

The film creates a dichotomy between the patriarchal, upper-class partying sphere and the outsider, lower-class sphere; Korine equates the exuberant violence of Alien's world with the indulgent partying of the Spring breakers. This is done through editing at the end of the film, where shots of the beach partiers are cross-cut with dead bodies from the girl's rampage. This works as both a class distinction, contrasting desperation and violence with carelessness and privilege, but also works to compare violent murder with cultural objectification; the inherent evils associated with organized crime are equatable to the evils of masculine party culture. Faith, Cotty, Brit, and Candy survive both spheres of evil, and escape as empowered women with a changed sense of identity--the next wave of women, ready to face the world with an inherent strength and ambition to change the world.

Or maybe this is just a stupid and indulgent party movie without any substance. If that's all you want to take out of it, then it's still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Interpret it however you want, whether or not it's deep doesn't matter when there are girls in bikinis with big guns.

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