"I'm so tired of seeing the same things every day," Faith, a college girl tells her friends. "I'm tired of driving past the same depressing houses every day."
The cure for her ennui? The cure for those same feelings her friends, Brit, Candy and Cotty, are having? Spring break, of course. In St. Petersburg, Fla., of course. It's a goal they've been saving up for all year. But when the time finally arrives to go, they still don't have enough money.
No worries, one girl suggests. We'll just rob a restaurant and make it happen. And so they do. (But it's important to note that Faith doesn't learn about the heist until after the fact.)
A bus ride later, and the four young women land in a kind of secular promised land, one where the keg's never empty and the party never stops. Until, that is, a drug-filled bacchanal lands the girls in jail. They seem destined to pout through a two-day stint in the clink until they're bailed out by a rapping drug dealer named Alien. He was in court to buy back two of his lackeys, and they suggested he may as well give the girls a get-out-of-jail-free card too.
But it's hardly free.
Soon, Alien's seducing them into a world that's even seedier than the seedy places they've already been, an underworld of drugs and violence. Faith's unwilling to go any further, but the other three practically leap at the chance to become Alien's unlikely bikini-wearing henchmen in a turf war against a rival named Archie.
It's a wilder ride than any they've ever had before. And it soon becomes clear that the wilder the ride, the more jarring the journey. And the more deadly the end.
What do we do with reality when we don't like it? Spring Breakers, in a brash, bawdy way, addresses that question.
Faith complains to her friends about how much she loathes her mundane life. In contrast, spring break represents a paradise of newness and pleasure for her. In a phone conversation with her grandmother, Faith gushes that it's "so nice to get a break from reality." But after getting arrested, Faith begins to lose faith in spring break's "salvific" promise. She tells her friends, "This is not fun. This not what it's supposed to be. I'm very uncomfortable. This is not what I signed up for."
After Cotty gets shot in the arm, she also has a similar reality check.
We're then left with the two really wild child characters, Candy and Brit, who are sliding as fast as they can down the Alien rabbit hole. They pay lip service to telling their parents that they're looking forward to coming home and trying to do better in their lives. But they've bought the fantasy Alien is selling, and they've checked into a hotel they can never leave.
There's a lesson in that, and Spring Breakers does teach it. (Again, in a twisted, horribly sordid way. Read on.)
Faith, who wears a cross, attends a college group at a local church. A pastor says, "I can feel the presence of Almighty God in this room" and asks, "Are you jacked up on Jesus? I'm feeling the Almighty Jesus in this room." The group sits in a circle, praising God and clapping. Everyone, that is, except Faith, who's not clapping and looks unhappy. The pastor quotes 1 Corinthians 10:13, saying, "But when you are tempted, you will also be given a way out." He says that every temptation can be endured because God faithfully provides a way to resist.
Faith later tells two other women that she's headed to Florida with Brit, Candy and Cotty. One woman labels her friends "demon blood" and "evil," and exhorts Faith to pray.
This sets Faith up for a mighty struggle with her dissatisfaction in her Christian walk. She longs to be fulfilled. And she starts searching in all the wrong soirees. She says of the rules-free world she encounters in St. Petersburg, "I'm starting to think that this is the most spiritual place I've ever been." In a conversation with her grandmother, she describes it as "beautiful," "magical" and "perfect."
Though Faith parties with her friends at first, she becomes increasingly uneasy after the girls get sucked into Alien's ominous orbit. Before she leaves, he asks Faith if she has faith in God and if she prays for her friends. She says that she does.
Perhaps 30 seconds—if that—into the movie, we see a montage of topless women on the beach. Five of them recline on the sand as men pour beer down funnels into the girls' mouths, spilling it onto their breasts. It's the first of many such scenes. Indeed, the movie rarely goes more than a few minutes without intercutting shots of smiling, laughing, drinking and nearly naked coeds.
We see guys in jock straps once. But it's the topless women the camera refuses to leave alone. Sometimes they're making out. Sometimes they're submitting to having alcohol or cocaine licked or snorted off their torsos and breasts. Sometimes they're rubbing their chests against other women's. And such scenes are often presented in lingering, slow-motion.
A lengthy sequence in a strip club features more topless women dancing and milling about backstage, surrounded by ogling men. While she's showering we see one girl's backside and breasts. And even when women aren't nude, they're rarely wearing much more than tiny string bikinis.
There are two explicit sex scenes, each involving two women and a man. Candy and Brit succumb to Alien's seduction and have a threesome in a swimming pool. Shots above and below the waterline reveal that they're all naked. Unambiguous sexual movements and sounds are seen and heard. Even more graphic is a scene with Archie and two women. Sex is shown, as is a sequence in which the two women make out with each other as Archie watches.
Many other explicit verbal and visual references are made to sex acts and sexual anatomy. A man is made to perform "oral sex" on a gun barrel as girls talk about pulling the trigger.
To "finance" their trip, Candy, Cotty and Brit rob patrons in a local diner, then burn the getaway car they've stolen from a professor. They violently break bottles, hold people at gunpoint (with squirt guns) and repeatedly threaten to kill them. Later, they act out the event for a horrified Faith, bragging about how much fun it was.
Once Candy, Cotty and Brit fall under Alien's thrall, they wear skimpy bikinis and pink ski masks as they rob a group of college guys in a hotel room, one of whom gets nastily smacked in the mouth by Alien, to bloody effect. They also hit a wedding and rob its attendees.
Alien's new all-girl posse infuriates Archie, who says Alien is infringing on his turf. He shoots a burst of bullets from a submachine gun at Alien's car, hitting Cotty in the arm. We see Alien dig the bullet out.
Alien then decides to attack Archie on his home turf, with Candy and Brit toting machine guns. Alien is quickly dispatched by a bullet to the head, but Candy and Brit go on a rampage anyway, shooting and killing about a dozen of Archie's goons and eventually executing him in his bed (while two naked women in the shower cower).
Crude or Profane Language
More than 100 f-words (30 or so of which are paired with "mother"). About 25 s-words. We hear multiple uses of "p‑‑‑y," "t-ts" and "d‑‑k." "B‑‑ch" is trotted out repeatedly, as is the n-word. Milder exclamatories include "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." God's name is combined with "d‑‑n" a half-dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol of all kinds is omnipresent. Party scenes repeatedly show people consuming beer through bongs and hoses. And we see young adults getting drunk pretty much everywhere, on the beach, at hotels, in parking lots, outside stores. For the most part, drunkenness "merely" has an intensifying, almost manic, effect on the women giving themselves over to carnal excess. At one point, though, we do glimpse someone passed out next to a toilet.
Nearly everyone smokes cigarettes and marijuana, smoking the latter from bongs. Candy and Brit blow the drug-derived smoke suggestively into each other's mouths. They coax Faith into smoking marijuana through a bong, apparently for the first time. She enjoys it.
Cocaine turns up repeatedly as well, again with Candy and Brit leading the charge. We see it repeatedly chopped and snorted—sometimes, as mentioned, off of women's naked bodies. We see Alien's extensive drug-dealing operation, and huge mounds of cannabis in Archie's home.
Other Negative Elements
Each young woman calls home and lies to either parents or grandparents about what's going on. Alien brags that he never wanted to be good; that he always wanted to be bad. After laying waste to Archie's compound, Brit and Candy steal his Lamborghini and drive off into the sunset.
For months leading up to the release of Spring Breakers, news and entertainment outlets fixated on Disney "good girls" Selena Gomez ( Wizards of Waverly Place ) and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) plunging into the world of debauchery director Harmony Korine depicts in his latest film. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens summarized the response, writing, "There seem to be two critical perspectives on Spring Breakers. Is the veteran provocateur Harmony Korine's most mainstream movie yet—the story of four college girls who go a little too wild on a party trip to Florida—a dead-on formalist send-up of our of culture's sick obsession with guns, drugs, and the sexual exploitation of young women? Or is it a stultifyingly dull piece of exploitative garbage? This false binary misapprehends the central Harmony Korine stratagem, which is to ensure that the viewer can have it both ways."
In other words, is it the most immoral morality tale ever? Or is it just plain immoral, debasing and manipulating young actresses even as it supposedly makes a statement about exploitation?
I'm going to land a lot harder on the latter interpretation. Sure, a critical, self-aware adult trying to mine sociological meaning out of Korine's film could conclude that he's painted a devastating portrait of our culture's intoxication with sex, consumption and excess, largely at the expense of women.
But Spring Breakers itself objectifies women in just about the most outrageous way I've ever seen, with rarely a few minutes passing between topless scenes. And when the film's four young stars aren't naked, they're nearly so, wearing the tiniest of bikinis—so incessantly that trying to find images to publish along with this review was nearly impossible.
"I'd been collecting spring break imagery for a couple of years from fraternity and coed pornography [websites]," says Korine. "There were all these hypersexualized, hyperviolent subjects. But then there's all these interesting, childlike details, like nail polish and bags, stuff like that. So I just imagined girls on a beach in bikinis robbing fat tourists. I thought that was funny, and from there I started building that image and dreaming this story."
Mingling that inspiration and its resulting "wardrobe" with the degrading sexual activities shown and an increasingly violent storyline only confounds any intended message here even further.
For fans curious about Selena and Vanessa's "grown up" metamorphosis, then, it's a toxic, virulent stew of nonstop carnality, an assault of fleshy, violent images that are more than just disorienting and confusing, they're dangerously suggestive to their impressionable young souls.
To old souls too, for that matter.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Selena Gomez as Faith; Vanessa Hudgens as Candy; Ashley Benson as Brit; Rachel Korine as Cotty; James Franco as Alien; Gucci Mane as Archie
Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely, Gummo)
March 15, 2013
Adam R. Holz Adam R. Holz