Spring Breakers, the new movie by Harmony Korine starring Selena Gomez, has opened to sold-out theaters in New York and Los Angeles and has created a lot of buzz. It left me shaking my head and wondering why I had wasted my money buying a ticket.
Did it hold my attention? Yes, it did. But so would a naked woman screaming down a dark street. And this is essentially what Spring Breakers amounts to.
There were about 127 shots of writhing, bikini-clad (or naked) rear ends; 27 shots of naked breasts; 41 shots of various sexual shenanigans, usually of the shocking variety, such as girls-gone-wild-in-Florida urinating on rows of men; and various and sundry shots of gratuitous violence. Mixed in were an abundance of extreme close-ups of the four teens that were going wild, especially of Gomez: her lovely face trying to look worried, her pouting mouth, her forlorn eyes, her rigid behind, and practically every other part of her body.
As for the story, if we can call it that, it was sketched in behind a slew of film-school gimmicks-a crazy quilt of fast cuts, grainy slow-motion, intercutting past and present, extreme close-ups, beautiful Florida sunsets, all intermixed with assorted spring break scenes of carousing teens. Somewhere beneath all the flash and blare was a tale of four college girls running around in bikinis, holding up people in a coffee shop for money to go to Florida, and partying night and day once they got there. They end up in jail only to be bailed out by a local gangster/pimp (played by James Franco). Gomez has the role of a religious girl who refuses to join the gangster’s gang, but the other three are taken in and two of them end up participating in the grand finale of gang warfare.
The characterizations were either non-existent or stereotypical-the gangster with a sensitive side, the college girl too religious to go wild. Aside from these two stereotypes, the rest of the cast were indistinguishable, generic wild college girls and gang members. The vapid personalities did not arouse any feeling other than disgust, or any understanding other than “What the hell?” Every now and then one of the teens would call home and lie to her family, “Everything’s great.” I suppose this was supposed to pass for irony, but it was just more stuff piled onto a hodge-podge of people doing bizarre things for no apparent reason.
Afterward I was asking myself what the existence of such shock-appeal thrillers-as well as their popularity-tell us about ourselves. Have our senses become so numb and our hearts so cold that we can only respond to images and sounds that flash and screech at us? Are we, like the characters on the screen, only interested in escape?
This same story could have been told as a tragedy, focusing on human beings caught up in urges and conflicts that drove them to drugs, sex and violence. It could have shed light on the phenomenon of the spring break and helped us to understand it and to care about the people involved. It might have even made us weep real tears at this lost generation.
Let’s not blame the director, Korine, for the lack of depth. Writers and directors today are being trained to avoid depth. Getting too real will cause controversy. If, for example, he showed parents being too permissive with their children, causing them to develop attitudes of narcissistic entitlement that culminated in these hedonistic spring breaks, then there would be people chiding the filmmaker for blaming parents. And if he had shown real portrayals of Hispanic gangs in Florida, he would have been chastised for being a racist. People don’t seem to want depth; instead they want sex and violence, action and glamor, with as little meaning as possible. This is another reason why Korine might have stayed at the skin-deep level.
Yet, unwittingly or wittingly, Korine has made a point, although it was done with a sledge hammer. The movie may be a portent of things to come, a glimpse of a future dominated by spoiled, decadent teenagers that have lost all the values that have historically held societies together, of kids selfishly seeking wilder and wilder forms of gratification. I found myself wincing at the thought that people all over the world would see this movie and judge American culture by what they see.
When the founders of the America wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all people had the right to the “pursuit of happiness,” is this culture of entitlement what they had in mind? Did they envision a teenage society with no soul, no direction, and no self-understanding?
But they were just a bunch of Nineteenth Century idealists. What did they know?