19 - 25 April 2013, DCA
As the director of Gummo (1997) and co-writer of Kids(1995), Harmony Korine is recognised for his indie approach to the documentation of youth culture. Korine’s latest film, Spring Breakers, sees the director scrutinise his adolescent subjects even more closely than he has done in the past.
The story follows four college girls who rob a local chicken shack to raise enough funds to embark on the exciting spring break vacation of their dreams. After the sobering experience of being arrested, the girls are bailed out by Alien, a drug and arms dealer played by James Franco, who then invites them to experience his understanding of spring break as a constant state of mind. The characters are all fairly one-dimensional, ensuring that they are at home in the film’s video game-like aesthetic. The accompanying soundtrack by artists such as Skrillex, the saturation of pop culture imagery creates a fantasy world in which the characters move throughout the duration of the film, suggesting that reality is something that is increasingly diminished from our day to day lives. The characters often say things like “Just pretend it’s a fucking video game, act like you are in a movie or something.” Yet in spite of the persistent sensory overload that this might suggest, there is something deeply poetic about the film.
Spring Breakers is an experience that is very short lived, disappearing just as quickly as it materialises in a bright neon blaze of glory. Korine is also known for his work as a visual artist, and his almost painterly style of filmmaking translates well onto the screen. As demonstrated in Julien Donkey Boy (1999), which was originally captured on video and then transferred on to 35mm in an attempt to visualise the subjective worldview of a character who suffers from severe schizophrenia, Korine often experiments with a more immediate style of filmmaking. Although the director’s often primitive visual style may have evolved, it is clear from watching Spring Breakers that his films are still very much adolescent in theme. That, at least, is how it is possible to interpret the film at first.
The repetition of the mantra, “spring break, spring break forever” has a hypnotic quality to it, which serves to draw the audience even further into the film’s narrative. In an interview in The Guardian, Korine describes how “all the kids in high school and college jump in their cars and go to Florida and just kind of tear the place up. Adolescent debauchery on the beach, just everything you can imagine drugs and sex and violence and all those things and then you would just get back in your car, drive home and pretend like it didn’t happen.” Spring Breakersattempts to go beneath surface of this cultural phenomenon and to question the American Tradition of young people “breaking out” of routine existence and retreating to the Florida Coast for one of the most highly charged experiences of their lives.
Spring Breakers is a work of pure fantasy; the director taps into the desire to escape from reality through a total abandonment of many of the common principles which govern our daily lives. Through the clever use of voice-over the director is able to conjure up a world that is completely free from adult supervision: the girls’ telephone calls back home to their parents go unanswered, mirroring the sense of detachment that surrounds the whole experience. By confronting this abysmal world or excess, the film forces the viewer to recall Nietzsche’s philosophy inBeyond Good and Evil: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into a long abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”