Thursday, August 22, 2013

Spring Breakers (2012): Cultural Teardown through Feminist Empowerment

Spring Breakers (2012)
Dir: Harmony Korine

The gun has frequently been a symbolic representation of the phallus.  In cinema, it is rare for a woman to fetishize a gun, because a woman doesn't have a penis.  Spring Breakers fucks that all up.

Now, its not to say that Spring Breakers is the first movie to have a woman and her gun.  Off the top of my head, there was 1989's Blue Steel, 1991's Thelma & Louise, 2/3 of the movies that Angelina Jolie stars in, and also, to a lesser extent, in 2011's Bridesmaids.  Let's also not forget the empowerment of the gun in Planet Terror (the first half of Grindhouse), where a woman gains her force and also gets a gun as a leg.  But, It is safe to say the majority of loving one's gun is depicted a masculine trait in cinema, representative of one's agency and manhood.  One of the most blatant would be in 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

The thing about Spring Breakers that few of the above movies have done is allow the girls with guns to be girls.  Angelina Jolie frequently becomes "a man with tits" in tight clothing.  The other half are masculinized and have the duality of a man and a woman thrust upon them.  But, Spring Breakers takes it the other way.  It is about a group of girls who subvert and abuse the usual masculine norm by taking it for themselves without giving up the identity of a woman.

In Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine has created a collision course of everything that is being marketed at youth.  The myriad of inspirations are: hip hop culture and its appropriation, Scarface (which has been appropriated as gangster), Britney Spears in both Disney and rebellion form, MTV Spring Break and its later inspiration Girls Gone Wild, techno videos (Aphex Twin and Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up most significantly), video games, bad girl tv shows, and youthful killer movies, most strongly Badlands.  Instead of letting any one of these dominate the conversation of as a genre, Harmony has put them all, undiluted, into a melting pot and created a highly toxic and potent mixture that is at once critique and reveling.

Spring Breakers is about a group of economically deficient girls who hold up a restaurant to get money for going on a spring break trip to Florida.  There, they party it up by drinking, doing drugs, and having sex at their leisure before being sprung by Alien (James Franco), a Scarface-cum-gangster who revels in excess and pulls them out of their comfort zone, until the more rebellious ones take control of the situation and become gangsters in their own right.

Harmony Korine has also stepped out of his comfort zone to make this saga of pop culture gone terribly terribly wrong, and terribly terribly right.  Where most of Korine's other work has been rough and raw depictions of humanity at its most fucked up, this is Korine recreating the romanticism and allure of all of society's youth marketing and presenting it in a dreamy fantasy, which is at odds with the condemnation we should feel towards this.  Korine realizes this, but doesn't pass judgement on it either.  It is at once completely alluring and toxic.  Energizing and disheartening.

The main reason it seems so freshly toxic to most is that Korine gave the agency and fragility to four young girls, at least one of whom was a Disney superstar destined to be changed out for another one.  Instead of a gangster movie being about men, it focuses on young girls, who also reveal their vulnerability throughout the film.  Most in society want to hug and protect the fragile girls and have them act like objects without their own strength and power.  If this movie had put college boys at the forefront, it would have been seen as purely distasteful boys will be boys.  But, by putting girls in the roles, and letting them be girls as well, Spring Breakers creates a wholly new dimension of feminism.

Korine, in the main Korine touch of the film, seemingly has no interest or invested meaning beyond "this is the state of what exists."  His script for Kids passed little moral judgement, even as a young teenage boy who had AIDS was going around fucking virgins and infecting them, even raping one passed out girl in her sleep.  It didn't celebrate this violation, nor did it condemn it.  It merely presented it as a thing that might happen.

In not passing judgement, and in choosing genres that celebrate rebelliousness, objectification, and empowerment, Korine is able to give four young girls agency, while frequently showing, in slow motion, guys pouring beer on topless girls' breasts.  His indulgence in these objectifications are at once to show that girls can be complicit in their own objectification, and that these girls can and do lead their own way.

In the second act of Spring Breakers, things get a bit hairy when Alien lets the girls out of jail.  He brings them to a party filled with black men, where the camera allows the little white girls to be leered at and they are shown to be uncomfortable in this objectification.  Here, Spring Breakers is also showing the racism that is present in culture, as well as the differences between wanted and unwanted objectification.  For the previous 20 minutes, we had been witnessing this group of girls, among others, show off their bodies and invite the leering gaze of other young, white, college-aged men.  Once we get into people who are twinged with blackness, though, things get a little worrysome for awhile.  The girls are somewhat pressured, but never accosted or pawed.  They are more safe in this party than they probably were at the spring break party where they were arrested.  They are in control of their facilities (given they didn't take any drugs), they aren't sources of sex for testosterone laden men.  But, the otherness of the black element adds to the tension that the girls, and, by extension, the audience feels.

Eventually, once at home with the showboating Alien, and dwindling the numbers as they send one girl back home, the girls take their own agency and pick up Alien's guns as their own.  They play with the guns, and even use them as phalluses on Alien, as shown in the photo.  Here, women are taking control of their own agency and controlling the penis as well.  Is Korine trying to say that the penis/gun is the only way to get all power and agency?  Or that the penis is merely a collective cultural symbol for power and agency, and that any woman who wants to take control of their own destiny is free to do so?  Or, is Korine playing with heady fetish imagery and possibly inverting the gender for maximal impact?  Could it be all three?  Are we as turned on by women wielding a phallus at a guy as we are at a guy wielding a phallus at a woman? If this movie wasn't presented as pure fantasia - by way of repetitive dreamlike voice-overs, repeated footage, time lapses, and over lush cinematography - would we have less of a problem with it, or more?

Spring Breakers, has all of these messages, questions, and more compressed into a tight and electrifying 93 minutes.  If you want to see a statement on sexual politics in the mainstream, this is the movie you need to be watching.  It is as exploitative as all get out...but so is youth culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment