Saturday, April 6, 2013

“Look at My Shit!” Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

By Thomas Puhr

*Spoilers Abound*

It’s meant to be about surfaces. The culture is about surfaces. It’s meant to be like candy. . . . If it makes people angry, that’s fine. If people love it, that’s…great. There’s no right or wrong way to interpret this film, or anything that I do. It’s all just perfect.           
–Harmony Korine

Is Spring Breakers an indictment of this generation masking as a hedonistic, sex-filled romp? A neon-saturated celebration of this generation’s excesses? A satire of the pop-culture obsessed, material-driven population that consumes the former, kid-friendly work of its Disney stars (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens)? A sick joke on pre-teen girls looking forward to “that spring break Selena Gomez movie”? A feminist statement? A cautionary tale?

All of the above? None of the above?

Well, according to the above quote by Harmony Korine, any and every response to the film (anger, laughter, horror, disbelief) is valid. It can be viewed from many different perspectives and angles; any interpretation of the film slips through your fingers in light of another possible interpretation. The film is, by turns, sexy, terrifying, beautiful, exploitative, (intentionally) repetitive, surreal, hilarious…the list goes on. One thing is for sure, though: it is never boring.

Let’s start out with the surfaces. If anything, the film is a beauty to look at. Korine fills the screen with a dizzying, feverish assemblage of fast-motion, slow-motion, neon colors, grainy video footage, and beautiful, dream-like locations. The bright colors (lots of reds, blues, yellows, and pinks) pop off the screen. Indeed, Korine himself said that he wanted the film to look like it was “lit with Skittles.” Which takes us back to the above quote; is Spring Breakers just the cinematic equivalent of a sweet, colorful piece of candy?

Spring Breakers as a Song

Maybe the movie is more musical…or experiential than it is…traditionally narrative. So it’s like a stew or a chemical…reaction.
-Harmony Korine

In some ways, the narrative structure of Spring Breakers does feel more like a song than a typical plot or story thread. Throughout the film, specific scenes, lines, and images are replayed multiple times. In some cases, short lines are repeated three, four, sometimes five times within the very same scene, almost like the repeating chorus of a pop song. For example, the line “spring break forever,” repeated throughout the film, could easily be the chorus of an innocent, Disney pop song.

To add to this loose, cyclical narrative, Korine also incorporates a number of recurring visuals. A slow-motion, music video-esque montage of teens partying on the beach, spraying beer all over the place, sucking on popsicles, etc. is revisited throughout the film, as well as a strangely-haunting shot of one of the girls’ pink ski masks floating in a pool.

Korine also jumps freely/chaotically/gleefully among past, present, and future. In one scene, Cotty (Rachel Korine) is shot in the arm during a drive-by shooting. Korine generates suspense by jumping back and forth between Alien (James Franco) and the girls driving around aimlessly and Cotty crying in pain, bleeding. He continues to jump between the present and the immediate future in this scene until the two violently converge. Faith(Gomez)’s voicemail message to her grandmother (about the nice, innocent fun she’s having) is also looped throughout the film, sometimes in ironic contrast with the on-screen violence.

Spring Breakers as a Horror-Comedy

Spring Breakers is littered with unexpected, disorienting tonal shifts, swinging wildly from the safety of broad comedy to the edge of pure horror (sometimes within the same scene). Some moments are clearly meant to be funny, such as Alien’s hilarious, much-talked-about “Look at my shit!” speech, in which he rants and raves to his bikini-clad friends about all of the great stuff in his house (machine guns, cologne, nunchucks, tanning oil, Scarface on repeat). Alien’s tirade is by far one of the funniest moments in any film this year.

Other moments, however, teeter uneasily (and sometimes ingeniously) between comedy and terror. Right after delivering his hilarious speech, Alien is confronted by two of the girls, who shove loaded pistols in his mouth and demand he beg for his life. The scene is brimming with suspense. And then, inexplicably, Alien begins to suggestively suck on the barrels of the guns. Afterwards, he proclaims his love for the girls. Alien’s actions in this scene (and in many others) are so unexpected and ridiculous, I did not know whether I was supposed to laugh or recoil in horror. I’m assuming that such a response is exactly what Korine is going for. He does not let his audience off easy by blatantly telling them how they are supposed to feel; these uneasy, strange tonal shifts (from laughter, to horror, and then back to laughter again) add to the film’s dreamlike quality.

Spring Breakers as a Dream / Nightmare

Ultimately, Spring Breakers feels like a dream that eventually descends into a nightmare. Just as Alien proudly proclaims himself as a man not of this world, the neon-saturated party world that the girls enter does not feel like Florida, or any other earthly location, for that matter. Instead, it looks and feels like a candy-coated nightmare.

In the film’s climactic scene, Alien and his girls lead an assault on the fortress of a rival gangster named Archie (Gucci Mane). This scene is bursting with color and beauty: the girls’ neon-yellow bikinis against the night sky, the pink glow of the pier leading to Archie’s mansion (itself a giant slab of vibrant pink), and, of course, the pink of the girls’ ski masks. This sequence exists in a place and time that does not even begin to approximate reality. We have officially entered an exotic, violent dream world.


The visuals are clearly the driving force of the film, and they are indeed very beautiful and hypnotic. But for all of Korine’s visual skills, Spring Breakers is also a pretty frustrating film. Korine is clearly not interested in linear stories and plots, which is absolutely fine. But the dialogue in the film is sometimes cringe-inducing, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not Korine always means it to be taken as such. James Franco turns out to be the only actor with any memorable dialogue to chew on, and he definitely takes full advantage of the Alien character. Nevertheless, most of the dialogue, though minimal, is dispensable. I love the idea of having a film that feels more like a nightmarish pop song than a straight narrative, but Korine doesn’t quite deliver this time. To use a musical metaphor, the song sounds gorgeous, but the lyrics need some work.


Korine, Harmony. Interview at 69th Venice International Film Festival. myETVmedia. myETVmedia, 2012. Web. 5 April 2013.

---. Interview by Vice. Parts I and II. Vice. Vice, 2013. Web. 5 April 2013.