Spring Breakers – An Unheralded Pop Art Masterpiece

By Michael Copeland | @M_Copeland

I am fascinated by Spring Breakers.

At its very surface, it’s hollow; you could even call it dumb. What on earth is Harmony Korine trying to say here? Surely it’s a commentary, a satire. This thing is so empty! Why does everyone speak like they’re texting or tweeting? No one has any depth. No one spews great insight into the human existence… is the filmmaker 16 years old?

I admit I had some of these thoughts when I first saw it in theaters four years ago, and I could certainly sense that the majority of the audience felt the same way. I’ve watched it with friends several times since, and it’s apparent that it’s a consistent feeling among first-time viewers.

For me though, what kept me from filing the film away as “immature," was the strong imagery Korine was giving us. The cinematography is top-notch, and every shot seemed to be intentional and finely-tuned. Not to mention, the eerily-hypnotic score by the great Cliff Martinez was a force to be reckoned with. A “dumb movie” doesn’t have this kind of craftsmanship. The sequence with the Alien character (played brilliantly by James Franco) performing Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on the piano while the four female leads (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) dance in ski masks, holding automatic weapons, is an absolute show-stopper. The scene serves as a montage, and identifies the moment when the girls “break bad.” The performance intertwines several slow motion sequences of violence, and aesthetically tips us off to Korine’s point: this is the world seen through the eyes of today’s youth, and this is the soundtrack to it.

 Photo Credit: variety.com

Photo Credit: variety.com

The movie plays like a great pop song, with repetitive dialogue (“spring break. spring break foreverrrrrr”) and brightly lit, oversaturated cinematography. Neon colors are a major player in this film, and matched with an abundance of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez’s pulsating synthesizers, the movie does a great job of presenting commentary as a music video. Excess, celebrity, the American dream, the search for true self — Korine is interested in these ideas and their relationship to a generation raised on MTV. What results is a great piece of pop art that will completely knock your socks off if you look closely.

I have many favorite sequences in this film, but my number one is the scene where the girls rob the local restaurant in an effort to pay for their spring break adventure. It’s one long shot from the vantage point of the driver, as she circles around the restaurant. We witness the crime take place from a distance until we meet up with the rest of the clan on the other side of the restaurant after they finish the caper. It’s absolutely amazing.

This film isn’t for everyone, but even for those who write it off as empty, subconsciously they know it’s in the hands of a visionary. It’s too well-crafted to be thoughtless. And perhaps after the initial viewing, some of you won’t care to watch it again with a sharper eye, and that’s okay — hell, that may be the Harmony Korine misfire that will ultimately hold the film back from standing the test of time: too large a focus on “the culture” — but if you’ve ever passed by this movie on sales racks and turned your nose up at it over the cast and the title, I urge you to give it a chance. It’s a very strong voice with a very strong vision.