Spring semester seems to be a tinderbox for emotions, tensions, and of course, stress. There is one week during the semester, however, that is designed to relieve students. Spring break is the lit match that sets the tinderbox to flames. It is a break from reality and ultimately a break from the seemingly endless demands of academia. Midterms, group projects, review sessions, lectures, and homework. are among some of these demands that upperclassman face along with their own personal emotional, mental, and physical demands. For anyone, a full class load is more than enough to deal with, then add to that load extracurriculars, internships, the burden of student loans and part-time jobs. It is not uncommon for students bearing any number of these demands simultaneously to need a break and time for themselves. Each student’s situation is different, however, taking gender into account, the demands of men in college are not the same of those of women or any non-binary gender, for that matter. Imagine being a woman in college, battling not only academic demands, but also sexism in and out of the classroom, gender wage disparities after graduation, and the ever-looming threat of sexual violence in college. Imagine not only bearing those demands but also the demands of capitalism, the American Dream, and of gender- all within a patriarchal institution that is rigged for one gender’s success over another’s. Imagine having one week of reprieve from all these collective pressures. For women, there are daily reminders of our place in society even in the year 2017. But, what would happen if women abandoned their set of gender rules and started playing by men’s rules?
This is the narrative of the 2013 film Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine. The film follows four women who, after saving all year for this one week of vacation, come up short. They then do whatever any other man in an action film depicting the hero would do: resort to violence and robbery to get their way. Much like Graham Greene’s “The Destructors,” the paradox of destruction as a part of creation is akin to the spring break experience of Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith. These four long-time friends are determined to “get away from it all,” and are willing to take down any obstacle that stands in between them and their reprieve, even if it means by force. Within Korine’s aesthetically pleasing millennial playground, this “neon noir” black comedy challenges old Hollywood values and trivializes violence. Spring Breakers destroys gender preconceptions of women while forging its own path into the postmodern feminist canon. Spring Breakers follows four women embarking on a quest for the spring break capital of the world, St. Petersburg, Florida. Faith (Selena Gomez) is the conservative Christian of the group who wants to break free from her prayer group. Cotty (Rachel Korine) is the pink-haired ride-or-die who just wants to party. Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) are the films anti-heroes, who may have used spring break as a vehicle for their ulterior motives and bigger plans. These four are bound by their seemingly-innocent friendship consisting of drunkenly dancing with each other while singing Britney Spears’ songs. After their combined cash won’t even cover one night at a hotel, Candy, Cotty and Brit hatch a plan to rob a chicken joint with plastic guns and ski masks. With Cotty as getaway driver in her professor’s stolen old El Camino, the two terrorize and score enough money to send all four of them into St. Pete’s comfortably. After a party goes south, the four find themselves being arrested and standing in front of a judge, still only in their bathing suits. The women are sentenced to pay a fine or spend two more days in county jail, even though they had no more money. A white man clad with cornrows and a grill, who calls himself Alien (James Franco), smirks and sneers with enjoyment in the back of the courtroom. He bails the four out of jail and decides to let them hang around with him and his henchmen. After spending some time with Alien and his crowd, Faith is the first to leave spring break because she was uncomfortable with the rapper being so eerily friendly. Cotty is the next to leave after being shot in the arm by Big Archie (Gucci Mane), Alien’s old best friend-turned-nemesis. Candy and Brit prevail and overstay spring break as Alien’s hustling interns. At the end of the film, Brit and Candy, minus Alien, drive off in the sunset with a Big Arch’s bright orange Lamborghini. This film is driven by fascination of millennial’s hedonistic desires coupled with an overall message of disillusionment of the American Dream. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers conveys the feminist message that women have dynamic and important roles in films that are not limited to spectacle and femme fatale.
The women in this film are both heroes and villains, they embrace their sexuality, yet are completely in control of their situations. They are the driving force of the film rather than the supporting role and only through a third wave feminist perspective does this film convey that message. Spring Breakers challenges the traditional film noir archetype by utilizing the anti-heroes, Candy and Brit as the driving action of the film that transcended all boundaries of violent characters, rather than the sexy speed bumps for the hero of the film. Korine glamorizes their violence and passes it off as funny. Through a blurry second wave feminist lens, Spring Breakers is purely surface, solely misogynistic and overwhelmingly problematic to contemporary feminism. By examining this film and deconstructing its superficial reputation through a more accepting third wave feminist lens, Spring Breakers proves to be an important contributor to contemporary feminist cinema. Through Korine’s black humor and artsy liquid narrative, there is a not-so-subtle conversation about women’s roles and representation in society, as well as in films. The actors of this film either play as character or against-type and the characters Alien and Archie serve as vehicles of patriarchy and their male gaze is exploited and used for power by the four spring breakers.