‘Spring Breakers’ is a 2012 film directed by Harmony Korine, starring Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez and James Franco. The story surrounds four students sick of their boring hometown who dream of the infamous ‘spring break’ promised to youngsters. The idea of escaping to a magical world populated by drugs, alcohol, and constant semi-nudity they begin to lose themselves.
This is one of those rare movies that can be called ‘trashy’, ‘tasteless’ and ‘gratuitous’ whilst simultaneously being provoking, insightful and hypnotic. At the heart of the story, there are many messages about the morality of ‘spring break’ and the new religion bred from excess and the commercialisation of crime. it is essentially a film within a film. When the girls whisper “Pretend it’s just a video game. Like it’s a fucking movie“, this isn’t done without a nod and wink to the audience. Essentially there are two camps of people who view this film, those that came to see what was possibly going to happen and those who came with preconceived notions and allowed them to be confirmed. Many a person would have seen this trailer and instantly assumed this was another party-centered teenage sex-fest, filled with awful messages for the youth to idealize and that caters towards those who wish to see previous Disney stars half naked in compromising positions. The ironic thing is that ‘Spring Breakers’ condones all the actions that it portrays. If you want a film to ever get you on the straight and narrow with your priorities, these girls are sure to remind you that the grass isn’t always greener. This double edged sword is why ‘Spring Breakers’ is so masterful, it is disguised as something so overt and in your face, you can see with clarity past it, especially on a second watch.
In order to analyse the message of the film I thought it would be best to focus on different characters individually and then some over-arching themes, of course, I would recommend you watch the film before reading, but once read, your second watch shall hopefully be seen through a different len. I shall start with our main cast:
Faith (played by Selena Gomez)
One of the first things of note with this casting is that it was no coincidence that Gomez is an actress known for a squeaky-clean Disney image and relatively juvenile singing career. A year after this film’s release her most controversial and mature song ‘Come and Get It’ was released and it is hard not to see this sexualised aged Gomez rearing its head in this film. Faith represents exactly what her name entails, our first introduction to her as a shy girl at her local church, nervously clapping to hymns. Once outside she explains going on ‘spring break’ with her friends and the local church women tell her they are demons and evil. To this Faith rebuts that she has known them since kindergarten and they are sweet. This faith in her friends is our first sign of her character being timid, lured into committing sin, whilst always remaining on the outside. She innocently protests that she wants to leave the town that makes her so depressed, but also understands they can’t afford it. She doesn’t have any involvement in the robbery of the Chicken Shack and yet once she realises they have enough to leave she takes her first hit of the bong and is solidified as complacent in their behaviour. Once they arrive at ‘spring break’ she appears to refrain from the excess of drugs and booze consumed by the other girls and once in the pool at night she dreams of them all buying a house and forever being happy in the moment. Faith’s character represents the natural curiosity and excitement that comes with spring break, really she is more of a typical teenager than the audience of the film may realise, she is loyal, shy but also can be out-going when happy. To her ‘spring break’ is a paradise of loving people, new friends, and special memories being made. Her outlook on the debauchery is with rose tinted glasses as it is at least different from the quiet life she is used to.
A crucial point within the film happens when the girls are drinking outside an off-licence and begin to describe how they robbed the Chicken Shack. Suddenly Brit and Candy start surrounding Faith, taunting her like they did the customers, screaming for her to get on the ground or they will kill her, simulating guns and crying victims begging not to be shot. This is the moment where Faith truly seems to see the girls for the demons they were described as before. After their stunt, they tell her to stick with them if she wants power and whilst doing so stroke her hair and laugh at how scared she is of them. Faith may have taken the money but at this moment she realises what it took for them to get there. Her persona changes and we start to see her take drugs and get more into the partying as if to block out the guilt.
The true shift in her character comes during her arrest when the girls are taken to jail there is this sense of realism, heightened by the fact that Faith is huddled in the corner of the cell, on the verge of tears and is the only one taking the sentencing seriously. She is generally distressed and wishes that she had never arrived as this was not what was supposed to happen. A sentimental moment that gets repeated throughout the film is her call to her family which is spoken in a soft, smooth and almost ghostly tone. It appears as a mantra as if partying has become her new religion and she seems to be the only one with a decent family to return home to. At the beginning of the film you see that she shares her room with her mother and snuck away as she knew, she wouldn’t be allowed to leave. The discomfort of being so far from home really hits her and once Alien arrives to bail them out she feels betrayed when her friends get into this strangers car rather than listening to her plea to return home. Truly Faith leaving shows she is the first to be saved from the cultish behaviour of these criminal spring breakers, she remarks that everyone is too friendly now, touching and speaking as if they know them. She is the only one to realise how predatory Alien actually is and shows the rationale that most parents instil in their children, and that is to follow your gut. Whilst the other girls actively pursue danger. Suddenly the prospect of staying on ‘spring break’ becomes her nightmare and when Faith eventually leaves crying that she wants her friends to come too, they don’t shed a tear as she is driven away alone and scared. This disconnect really puts into perspective the attitude of the remaining trio, that they are not willing to give this moment up. Faith’s character isn’t merely just one of the four cast members, she is in many ways the most mature and level-headed of the girls, once she sees an out from danger, she realises the dream is gone and leaves to return to her quiet life. Faith is the only character that delves into sin but leaves repenting.
Truly Faith leaving shows she is the first to be saved from the cultish behaviour of these criminal spring breakers, she remarks that everyone is too friendly now, touching and speaking as if they know them. She is the only one to realise how predatory Alien actually is and shows the rationale that most parents instill in their children, and that is to follow your gut. Whilst the other girls actively pursue danger. Suddenly the prospect of staying on ‘spring break’ becomes her nightmare and when Faith eventually leaves crying that she wants her friends to come too, they don’t shed a tear as she is driven away alone and scared. This disconnect really puts into perspective the attitude of the remaining trio, that they are not willing to give this moment up. Faith’s character isn’t merely just one of the four cast members, she is in many ways the most mature and level-headed of the girls, once she sees an out from danger,she realises the dream is gone and leaves to return to her quiet life. Faith is the only character that delves into sin but leaves repenting.
Cotty (played by Rachel Korine)
Cotty is the only character to have an extended scene away from the rest of the group, apart from this her character has fewer lines and is more mysterious than the other girls. The first time we see her she is passed out on her sofa, with what we assume is a family member smoking drugs. There are no scenes of her within the university and when Brit and Candy ask to borrow her car by dropping by what we assume is her workplace, she says she knows where the keys to their professor’s car is. When the girls ask how she knows that it is implied that she is sleeping with him. It is key to note that during the robbery she is solely the driver, observing the chaos through the window but never actually getting involved in it. Her limited lines allow us to see her actions rather than hear her thoughts. When the girls play out the robbery they make Cotty get on the floor begging for her life and when Faith speaks of wishing they could save these moments forever, the audio is played over Cotty in a random house at night, being pumped with alcohol and half passed out on the floor surrounded by men making sexual advances. The whole scene is in a yellow tinted musky room and the conversations seem to fleet between flirtatious and threatening as if Cotty has been left with a pack of wolves. Truth be told Cotty has the most opposing life to Faith, she is reckless, seemingly unloved, has no path in life and overall sad, she seems to thrive on attention from others rather than having confidence in herself.
If you are looking for symbolism, Cotty is actually hit by reality in the form of the bullet in her arm due to Alien’s turf war. Once this happens we see her mental breakdown, she is seen in pain in the dark, crying on the shower floor alone and naked, and finally speaking of returning to school and her life, announcing that “spring break is over”. It seems as though the experience has made her wake up to her own behaviour and is the only one who actually misses Faith. Once on the bus after a tearful goodbye, she sleeps on the seats in the fetal position, exhausted from the ordeal they have just been through. Cotty is an odd character to analyse as there isn’t much meat to her character. But if you fill in the blanks you realise this is because there isn’t much to her, she is seduced the most by this life that seems to suit her personality, degenerate and simple. However, she leaves seemingly more grateful for the little she has.
The exits of these two characters really put into perspective how they have been used to pursue ‘spring break’. If Faith is being used for the little money she has to contribute, the first thing the girls ask her is “where is the money?”, then Cotty is used for the car to get them the money. Candy and Brit seem to be in their own league throughout the film, they are the first to suggest spring break during their lecture, they are seen leaving university together both owning similar backpacks, they robbed the restaurant together and both are romantically involved with Alien. Cotty and Faith appear to be mechanisms for Brit and Candy to live out their criminal lifestyle they so desperately want and hint at throughout the film, playing with toy guns, imitating shooting themselves and their infatuation with money. Cotty is just another casualty, once she is shot the girls don’t try to convince her to stay but rather see her as extra weight, even both wearing sunglasses as they walk her arm in arm to the bus as if a funeral procession. It is no shock that once Cotty is out of the picture, the real violence begins. Much like her hair as the roots start to show through the shocking pink, Cotty becomes more and more sad, facing the music that lies at home whilst also growing up in the process. She is truly scared straight.
Part 2 coming soon! Candy, Brit and Alien analysis…
Side photo credit: Flickr/’Spring Breakers’ by Craig Dufft