Spring Breakers is actually Terrible

When I watched Spring Breakers (2012) it was almost like watching a reverse Rebecca Black “Friday”: it’s a pure form of what not to do for an indie film. While it’s been polarizing and recently better received by the indie film community, all the hype for how it’s Harmony Korine’s subversive satire of American culture falls flat on its face.

The biggest problem with the film is its mismatch between tone and character. On a tonal level, there is no comedy, dark or otherwise. It is, to quote some reviews, “deadly serious” and “take[s] itself seriously.” indeed, in many ways the film has the sincerity of a made-for-TV Hallmark drama.

But then come the characters.

In what seems like it was out of a play from Bertold Brecht, all the characters are pathologically flat. Indeed throughout the film they engage in the excess and debauchery of spring break like mindless machines without any kind of deepness or insight whatsoever. The immediate response then is “of course, that’s the point!” Well here lies the problem of Spring Breakers, it tries to be both completely serious while examining the internal world of characters who are empty. You can’t have it both ways.

The whole point of having unrealistic characters is to put a distance between the audience, so that they can critically analyze what their watching. As the Swedish novelist Elfriede Jelinek put it:

Psychological realism is repulsive, because it allows us to escape unpalatable reality by taking shelter in the “luxuriousness” of personality…The writer’s task is to block this maneuver, to chase us off to a point from which we can view horror with a dispassionate eye.

However, the seriousness of the film tries to remove this distance, making it contradictory. Thus it does not work, you can either have passionate realism or a satirical distanced critique, not both.

Spring Breakers tries to do both and fails spectacularly.

6 thoughts on “Spring Breakers is actually Terrible

  1. You can’t see the value in a complete reversal of the teen slasher film?
    Rather than being punished for their burgeoning sexuality, these young women dole out punishment after having had their sexuality exploited.

    By the end it is crystal clear that these girls truly “don’t need no man”.

      • We live in a world where “The Bling Ring” and Elliot Rodger are real people that really existed. Where people raised and immersed in nothing but pop culture really exist.
        That’s a fact that needs to be confronted, no matter how uncomfortable.

        In a “Master Class” lecture on Youtube (43 minutes in), Zizek explains how the movie Project X approaches an authentic religious experience. I’d agree, with the caveat that Project X is a thoroughly male experience.

        In “Blue is the Warmest Color” (in which a male director depicts a “lesbian relationship”), a character that is obviously a self-insert of the male director discusses the limitations of the male gaze:

        “Director: Insofar, as I’m a man, everything I glimpse is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality…I remember the story of Tiresias who was lucky enough to be a man, then a woman, than a man again. When he was asked who gets more pleasure, man or woman, he answered categorically that women get nine times more pleasure than men.
        Ever since women have been shown in paintings, their ecstasy is shown more than men’s, which is shown via woman. We see women bathing, we see…
        WomanA: The Origin of the World.
        Director: …men desperately try to depict it. Meaning they saw it.
        WomanB: Or imagined it.
        WomanC: Or wished for it.
        WomanD: It could be their fantasy.
        Director: So it’s based in that gaze into another world.
        Art by women never tackles female pleasure.”

        Is Spring Breakers the female version of Project X, or is it simply a male, voyeuristic, sadomasochistic fantasy?
        I don’t know. But in terms of its depiction of consumerism, it is a film far greater than “The Wolf of Wall Street” could have ever been.

      • (To finish off that thought…)
        …it is a film far greater than “The Wolf of Wall Street” could have ever been…precisely because of the lack of ironic/comedic distance. Authentic or not, it is a sincere take on consumerism.

      • It’s not so much the serious tone that makes it bad, it’s using that as a critique (the flat characters/situations), which almost by definition doesn’t work. The whole point of a critique or satire is to create a distance to analyze what’s happening, if you’re supposed to take it seriously then there is no analysis (or more likely it just comes off as badly made).

        If you’re saying Korine was sincere in trying to critique consumerism then I agree, it doesn’t mean his work was good though.

    • Looking back, were you also saying that Spring Breakers gave an accurate portrayal of pop-culture obsessed people? I mean sure, vapid/shallow etc. people exist but not anywhere near the absurd caricatures in the film.

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