Saturday, April 6, 2013

By Request: Spring Breakers

Quentin: So, Brad sent me a text this morning. He got a tweet last night from one of his followers asking us to review Spring Breakers.

Jake: It’s been on our radar, but we had scheduling issues.

Jason: It’s the one movie last month that I regret we missed.

Quentin: So we went to see it today, and frankly, we left feeling like we missed something.

Jake: I don’t want to make an ass of myself by saying it sucked.

Jason: There’s something going on there. I just don’t know what it is.

Quentin: So we decided to ask Ben for help, and he suggested we talk to Colin’s friend Blaine.

Jason: Blaine recently finished his PhD in literary theory. Colin called him for us and now he’s here thanks to Skype.

Quentin: A big Three Amigos welcome to Blaine Webster.

Blaine: Hey, guys.

Jason: Hi, Blaine. Can you help us figure this movie out?

Blaine: Yes, I think so. At least I hope I can. Harmony Korine is no dummy. This is the guy who wrote Kids. He has a very dark point of view. Unfortunately, the title and the poster of girls in bikinis suggest a mainstream college comedy. I even saw one article refer to it as a “spoof.” 

Jason: I was expecting something like 21 and Over.

Blaine: It’s none of those things. This is an American gangster movie, pure and simple. Like The Godfather, like Scarface, like Pulp Fiction.

Jake: But it looks like Pretty Little Liars.

Jason: It struck me as irresponsible.

Blaine: Why?

Jason: Because the movie suggests that criminal behavior is an appropriate response to bourgeois boredom.

Blaine: Do you really believe that? You really think Korine is telling a story in order to incite criminal behavior and violence in young people?

Jake: No.

Blaine: You want to make movies, right Jake?

Jake: Yeah.

Blaine: What did you see in the opening frame? What’s the one thing you noticed?

Jake: What do you mean?

Quentin: The saturated colors. That’s the first thing I noticed.

Blaine: Yes. This movie does not look real. It’s a fable. Once upon a time there were four girls who stepped into the fast lane. Korine has specific ideas about the role of art in our culture. He has specific ideas about what film can and cannot do.

Jason: What can’t it do? For example?

Blaine: It can’t answer questions or solve problems.

Jake: Then what can it do?

Blaine: It can start conversations. Just like it’s doing now, with us. What are some of the things you remember when you walk away from this movie?

Quentin: Chicks and guns.

Blaine: Good. And what are two of the things people are fighting about right now in this country?

Jason: Female sexuality and guns.

Blaine: Bingo. Female sexuality has been viewed as dangerous by men for centuries. There’s this idea that if left unchecked, Gaia’s giant vagina will swallow Western Civilization whole. Women must be contained, and right now we can see that in action. States are moving at lightning speed to curb reproductive rights. The gun debate we’re having has a ring of insanity to it. That’s because we refuse to acknowledge that Americans have a split personality. We may be the land of the free and home of the brave, but we also celebrate breaking the rules. Korine isn’t glamorizing crime or violence; he’s putting it on trial. But how are we supposed to question our dark side unless we’re honest about it? Films like this are important, now more than ever, because we are not being honest in our political debates. I would bet this movie is only confusing to Americans, who resist any kind of serious self-reflection when it comes to our flaws. If you showed it to someone outside the US, you might hear a lot of, “Ah, yes, that’s America.”

Jake: You took this movie way more seriously than we did.

Blaine: That’s your mistake, not mine. You were looking for something light and fun, and that’s fair given the title and the babe factor. But have you seen Kids?

Quentin: No.

Blaine: Then you have no one to blame but yourselves. Kids is a dark, dark movie that borders on contemporary nihilism. And in many ways, Spring Breakers is a response to the beating Korine took from feminist scholars like bell hooks, who claimed his female characters had no voice or agency.

Jason: I think he still has a problem with fully developed characters.

Jake: I agree.

Blaine: He’s working with archetypes.

Quentin: That’s bullshit. Do you even remember the names of the girls?

Blaine: Faith. That was the name of the Selena Gomez character.

Quentin: Any others?

Blaine: No.

Quentin: But I bet you remember the name of James Franco’s character.

Blaine: Yes, I do. Alien. I see your point, but I think you’re evaluating Korine based on the movie you wanted him to make, not on the movie he wanted to make. Have you ever heard of Bertolt Brecht?

Jason: He’s the guy who wrote Three Penny Opera?

Blaine: Yes, he was a German playwright. He wrote many great plays, and it’s almost impossible to understand this movie without understanding Brecht. He believed that storytelling could change the world. Literally. But not the kind of traditional storytelling that ends with emotional catharsis. He wanted his audience to think, and he believed emotion got in the way of that. He wanted them to seriously examine the economic and political underpinnings of social injustice, and he couldn’t do that with a domestic melodrama. So, he developed a kind of third-person, declamatory style of storytelling. He described it as, and I’m quoting here, “stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them.” That’s what Korine is doing here, only with a postmodern sensibility.

Jake: Do you think our puzzled reaction has anything to do with the leads being girls?

Blaine: That’s a good question. Something tells me you would have loved this film had the four leads been boys and the director’s name been Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin: Jesus, you’re right.

Blaine: We have a love/hate relationship with hedonism and excess in this country. We think of these things as morally corrupt, but they are also the promise of the American Dream. Think about that for a minute. We seduce with one hand and condemn with the other. We are raised to believe that success equals endless vacation. Alien even says it several times in the movie: “Spring break forever.” If success doesn’t give us the right to party and fuck with abandon, then what’s the point? Tiger Woods, anyone? Aren’t we implicitly taught that truly successful men don’t follow the rules; they transcend them? This is a movie about the American Id, where having a gun is the same thing as having a cock. I think the sight of James Franco giving a blow job to a pistol says it all.

Jason: But isn’t it the responsibility of the artist to provide some kind of direction? There’s no indication at the end that Korine has any moral point of view about the story he just told.

Blaine: What did you expect? Did you walk out of the theater asking, “What in the fuck was that?”

Jake: Yes.

Blaine: Then do your job and answer the question. Unpack your discomfort with the gender politics. Consider what it means for a gangster to deep throat a handgun. Ask yourself why so many of the scenes look like an episode of Laguna Beach. I was a teenage boy once, too. I know when someone draws a line in the sand, the first thing you think about is crossing it. We are all born with the temptation to do the wrong thing. It’s a storyteller’s job to take those temptations to their extreme conclusions.

Jake: Now I feel like I need to watch it again.

Quentin and Jason: Me too.

Blaine: I’m not at all suggesting there isn’t a counterpoint to my argument. But anyone who casually dismisses this movie is not interested in a rigorous intellectual discussion about filmmaking.

Quentin: Wow. Thanks, Blaine. We really appreciate you doing this.

Jake: I feel like we’ve been schooled.

Blaine: Not at all. I’ve read some of your reviews. You have very strong opinions about genre and narrative that I mostly agree with. But at some point you need to wrestle with the fact that artists disagree on the purpose of art, so do you evaluate them within their theoretical construct or within yours?

Quentin: My head hurts.

Blaine: I’ll leave you with my favorite Brecht quote: “Art is not a mirror, but a hammer. It does not reflect, it shapes.”

Jake: And what it shapes into is up to us?

Blaine: Now you got it.


  1. So glad I didn't see this head hurts, too Quentin.

  2. Thanks, Virginia. I'm glad someone else feels my pain.