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By Don R. Lewis | March 26, 2013

(This piece will contain spoilers on “Spring Breakers.” If you plan on seeing the film and don’t want anything ruined, please come back after you’ve seen it. I’d love to hear some thoughts.)

I’m a big, big fan of Harmony Korine and his films. While always weird and entertaining, I deeply admire the way he looks at human nature and society as though it’s another planet or a secret room hidden right under our noses. This has never been more true than in his latest film, “Spring Breakers,” which as a Korine fan I loved. Yet as a parent and a youth advocate (in my day to day job) I’ve rarely been more disturbed by a film and I’m not quite sure how to compartmentalize all the aspects within. Up to this point, Korine’s films have taken place within our society in an almost slice-of-weird-life fashion but were so esoteric and odd, they felt otherworldly. “Spring Breakers” also has these qualities but there’s such an eerie and precise look at today’s youth culture, I found myself grossed out and terrified even though I was also entertained. It’s the mark of a real artist to get people feeling this way.

Korine’s first feature “Gummo” presented people and situations that seemed brought up from the cracks in the sidewalks of the Southern backwoods. I often refer to the film as what goes on in the grimy, moldy grout that holds the tiles on the wall in the infamous “spaghetti in the bathtub” scene in that film. (Note: looking back at that indelible scene, it appears the bathroom has no grout and tile, but still, I’m sticking with my analogy). “Julien Donkey Boy” was a more suburban freak show, kind of like if the weird neighbors next door who you never talk to were suddenly on a reality show. While modern and rooted in current times, it too felt otherworldly due the strange situations and grainy, impressionistic video the film was shot on.

These almost David Lynch-like secret worlds within our own reality came to the fore in 2007’s “Mister Lonely,” which is one of my favorite Korine films but I think gets overlooked because it’s not quite weird enough by Korine standards. It’s truly about a secret place within our world, a commune for celebrity impersonators, where creativity, love and life can be explored through a kaleidoscope lens. But the filmmaker made up for that almost mainstream film ten times over in 2009 with the bizarre (and awesome!) “Trash Humpers.”

Now comes “Spring Breakers” which is Korine’s most accessible film but, to me, it’s also his most disturbing. And I say that again as a lover of cinema, a father and a guy who works with kids. While I think I get what Korine is getting at and saying in his latest film, and I agree, my biggest concern is in the message the film sends to kids which are being lured to the theater by the greatest bait and switch move in cinema history.

“Spring Breakers” is making a buzz unlike other Korine movies because, in the film, he’s cast three bubble-gum pop, real life Disney princesses (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson) as Candy, Faith and Brit, who play way against type as three sex, drugs and alcohol obsessed college girls on spring break. While images of them being promoted on posters and trailers for the film are naughty and fairly inappropriate because these are girls who are barely old enough to drink legally and they’re dressed beyond scantily, it’s also a clever, nay nefarious, plan to lure fans of these young fans into the theater.

And it totally worked which is awesome. Fans of these girls are having a Twitter-wide conniption fit because “Spring Breakers” promises those, who have no clue who Harmony Korine is, a film that seems to be a “Beach Blanket Bingo” fiesta movie for this day and age showcasing Gomez, Hudgens and Benson as all grows up and ready to party. It’s not. At all. And frankly, if you’re dumb enough to blindly follow these “celebrities” into whatever project they’re involved in, you deserve to be offended. And I think that’s one of the brilliant points Korine is making in this film; there’s a weird, blind eye cast on celebrity culture in which people who are famous for little to no reason at all command massive amounts of attention.

For what it’s worth, I only knew who Selena Gomez was because of the fact she was the most famous bit of casting news and her faux-dangerous performance outs her as not as brave as the casting might led you to believe. She plays the films most clumsily written character, whose name (“Faith”) is a heavy-handed nod to her religiosity, which is never played out very well. In fact, Gomez seems to be the token checkbook that got this film made and nothing more. She’s barely in it and has little to do but be the world’s worst sense of conscience. However, this point or idea of what these girls and their actions represent to Korine is going to be lost on a large cross section of teens and young adults seeing this film who will be the opposite of offended; they’ll be ready to emulate what they just saw.

Since I work day in and day out with youth ages 9-18, male and female, I have a very clear insight into what motivates “KIDS THESE DAYS.” The answer is: artifice, materialism and money. Yes, that’s a broad statement and yes, I don’t mean “your kid,” (who would ever assert that your precious child could be lacking in anything?) I’m talking in a broad sense and particularly when it comes to youth with little money or opportunity. While we’re constantly told there’s millions of kids working harder than ever to pass school and go to college, that’s simply not true. Many are looking to emulate success stories in the media and sports world and are unwilling to do any of the work. Yes, there are kids who want to better their situation but those kids stand out because they go against the norm in society. Most kids are unmotivated and want to get rich, get laid and own tons of crap they have no use for.

And hey, I may be past the age of 40, but I was no different as a teen. What makes “TODAY’S YOUTH” different from past generations is that a large majority of them are reliving or recreating experiences they see on TV and movies rather than being original and creating their own. The sex on display in “Spring Breakers” looks ripped from the webpages of RedTube and the kissing and heavy petting that occurs is more of a performance than fulfilling a lustful need. “Spring Breakers” is obsessed with the plastic phoniness that goes on in today’s youth culture and the people who emulate it without thought and an immediate need to look like what they just saw. In the film there’s no sexy in the sex, no brutishness in the violence, it’s all a hazy shade of emulation.

And many of these copy-cat moves by today’s youth are permanent. We all had a horrible, stylish haircut that fit our time in High School but that grew out. Today’s youth are getting tattoos, piercings and other permanent accoutrements that won’t grow out like my mullet did in 1988. Don’t believe me? Go to your local mall. Thug life rules for many boys and those awesome neck tattoos aren’t going to fly at any job that’s going to be considered a career. Girls are hyper-sexualized and STDs, sexual violence and unwanted children also can last forever. I think Korine makes a very sly and salient point about this in “Spring Breakers,” which I’ll get to later. But first, Britney, bitch!

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  1. Taryn says:

    I, too, had a love-hate relationship with this movie. It both mesmerized and disgusted me with its use of Spring Break to show how today’s youth mindlessly follow one another in a haze of immoral behavior. I laughed through most of the movie. I loved the brilliantly placed Britney Spears’ song that plays through the most disturbing montage of armed robbery. And while I enjoyed the entertainment of the movie, I do so hope that the fans of these young actresses don’t suddenly think they can put on a bikini, ski mask, and wield a gun for some spring break fun.

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