Harmony Korine likes to shock and awe. He's the boy who would line up first in biology class to dissect a frog; the one who would bring home road kill and hang it up proudly as art.
Korine is trapped in adolescence, navigating a world he still calls his own, filled with miscreants and outcasts, envisioning an existence influenced equally by Britney Spears and calamitous tornados. His characters reflect the kids who had trouble growing up, huffing glue and holding up fried chicken restaurants to feel a rush. They are the ones whose words trail off at the end of sentences, who often don't look you in the eye when they speak to you.
In a recent phone conversation, Korine told me that he hasn't grown up so much since his teenage years spent skateboarding through Tennessee. He occupies the mental space of adolescence, funneling different aspects of his childhood experiences through cinematic prisms, often grotesquely and graphically.
Spring Breakers walks these same thematic lines, exploring the harsher aspects of young adulthood, but it bathes the world in a different color palette than previously employed by Korine. It is lively, neon-lit and breast- and dubstep-infused; a nightmarish characterization of MTV spring break footage.
A slow-motion reel of bikini-clad bodies bathed in alcohol, sun and sand is the overture to the movie. The excess and repetition that follows is an exercise in obstreperousness, a violent shirking of control reflected musically by the shrill scratching and grinding of Skrillex. It rubs this twisted version of paradise in the audience's face before former Disney princesses arrive to experience it for themselves.
The movie thrives off of its own pop cultural references, for instance, reusing and retooling Britney Spears songs to both unnerve and amaze. Hearing "...Baby One More Time" from the mouths of four skimpily clad teenage girls is a visceral reminder of Spears' early sexualization. In what is arguably the best scene in the movie, James Franco playing an interpretation of wacked-out Houston rapper Riff Raff (Franco claims the role is based on the Floridian rapper Dangeruss), sings "Everytime" at a piano on his gangster pad patio, as the spring breaking girls pirouette in pink unicorn ski masks, toting automatic weapons in their hands. It looks like the final project proposal of an art school student in a mixed media workshop.
In moments like this and particularly all of the reconfigured MTV-inspired stock spring break footage, Korine is obviously dating himself, portraying a grain of adolescence as he sees it. That is combined with modern elements of dubstep and gangster rap, the two primary staples of music that have come to replace '90s pop princesses like Christina and Britney. The dialogue and images loop repetitiously referencing both a spring break of yesteryear and the modern musical party landscape creating a film that is both self-referential and dependent upon a 20-something-year-old cultural lexicon.
Korine codifies this world through a series of colors, most importantly, pink. In popular culture, pink conjures a diversity of images ranging from Easter bunny rabbits to breast cancer support groups to Victoria's Secret. It is often female, swathing lingerie in bright hues and toeing the line between empowerment and subjection. Korine uses pink in Spring Breakers to create invincibility, the feeling most directly associated with the adolescent experience.
When Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens' characters don pink ski masks, they can shoot gangsters with impunity, shielded by their own hubris and childlike ignorance. Korine has used pink as a metaphorical object before, most notably in 1997's Gummo.
Bunny Boy is in many ways the most innocent figure amongst the forlorn band of children in Gummo. He appears with pink bunny ears on his head, navigating the world of Xenia, Ohio, with a similar wide-eyed interest to the ski-masked women of Spring Breakers. Pink is identified as female or at least not part of a code of masculinity for boys in Gummo. Bunny Boy is called queer and shot with empty cap guns in one scene, which prompts him to play dead until two oppressive and vulgar kids leave him alone.
In the film's last scene, he holds the body of a lifeless cat with a reckless abandon indicative of a child that doesn't understand the ramifications of death. The girls in Spring Breakers claim that they experience a lot, desiring to grow up and change after their travails with the devilish rapper Alien. At the end of the film, they confront death in a manner similar to Bunny Boy, taking the lives of a slew of people with seemingly little consciousness of their actions. It all takes place under the pink caps that enshroud their heads in woolen innocence.
This difficulty to grasp the concept of death, whether in cats or humans, is indicative of the sense of invincibility that accompanies adolescence. Korine uses pink to help create that mask through which life is viewed as endless and accompanied by no consequences.
Spring Breakers is not opening the floodgates on any new element of adolescent experience nor is it a ubiquitous reflection of modern teenage lives. It's another entry in Korine's madcap exploration of the most elemental aspects of young adulthood, lit up by gunfire and a garish pink neon glow.
"It's something that's more like a pop poem, or almost like the real world but pushed into something more kind of -- I don't know -- hyper-poetic," Korine said.