I wrote all of the following in bits and pieces throughout the morning. I tried to "vomit on the page" to get some thoughts out quickly before too much time passes.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
When a writer/director deliberately has a character quote the bible, my ears perk up and I take notice.
I have long insisted that Korine knows what he is doing. I do think that he is absolutely in control over the wild hedonistic mess that is Spring Breakers.
SB opens with a string of shots advertising the hedonistic pleasures promised to us before settling down into its narrative of four college girls who can't quite afford to achieve their dream of being wild and free on Spring Break, somewhere where no one knows them, everything looks different, and responsibilities have disappeared in the sun alongside everyone's clothes.
Faith (a deliberately on-the-nose name) is introduced as the conscience of the group, first seen (I think) attending some lame Christian pep talk happy circle. The leader of this event quotes "1 Corinthians 10:13," reminding the kids he's counseling that they can withstand temptations.
Faith falters. She does not heed this advice. She goes after the golden calf with her friends. Cf. Faith's "this is the most spiritual place I've ever been" to Aaron's "These are your gods who have brought you out of the house of Egypt." Korine can't be ignorant of the context of 1Corinthians 10. He is deliberately setting up Spring Break as rampant idolatry and ingratitude toward ordinary provisions.
I won't review all of the plot points of the film. We've all seen it. I'll run down the four primary characters, though, as a way of exploring the narrative.
Faith's friends commit a horrible act of violence to gain access to Spring Break. Faith compromises enough to reap the benefits of the evil. She is always flirting with and playing with evil, joining her friends in the mindless beach and drug hedonism, but also a little aloof and trying to spiritualize events in a syncretic way. This is a sad but accurate portrayal of much of the church today.
Brandon mentioned the race aspect of the character's choice to leave when she does, but I don't think that's entirely fair, especially since Gomez is the only one of the girls with a shade of non-white ethnicity. She withdraws when things get serious. Up until that point, she had been pretending (believing) that everything was great. Dabbling with evil is fun and trendy and gives a little thrill. When faced with a fuller commitment to evil, an active participation in a real environment of violence instead of a safe, controlled area of play violence, well, it's revealed that Faith was only flirting with evil and can't stomach the real thing.
The next to drop out is Cotty. I looked up the name because I figured Korine was continuing to wear his symbolism on his sleeve. The word is an adjective meaning "entangled." Cotty, more so than Faith, is entangled in the world of Spring Break. She knows what it means and participates in it fully. She is a full accomplice in the robbery that starts it all. She loves the pseudo-reality of bong hits and beer funnels and attention from all the boys in the room at once. She consents to the madness of Alien's lifestyle. It is only when she is physically wounded that she is violently disentangled from Spring Break. A severe mercy.
Here's where I guess the names either mean nothing or get deep weird. B'rit is the Hebrew word for covenant. It's also a nickname for someone named Britney (Spears, representative of this sort of "youth culture"). Candy is sweet, but too much of it rots your mouth and destroys your health. These two girls have made a full and complete covenant with Spring Break. Spring Break Forever. This is hell. This is the fullness of the Spring Break experience that those on the beach are just playing at. "On the floor, motherfuckers" becomes the core command to all others as the ego rises and autonomous self-realization is made complete.
Ah, but here's the rub. I've been describing this Perfection of Spring Break as hell, but Korine films it as the achievement of Perfect Platonic F'ing RealitieS SPRING BREAK Achieved! The humor and his winking at sins show that he is in awe of the achievement that these girls have made, carrying through so perfectly on their pure desires.
Brandon is right to note a change in tone between Julien Donkey-Boy and Spring Breakers. The depravities on display in JDB are disturbing and the way that they are presented highlights this. The depravities on display in SB is gloried in. Korine seems to be enjoying Spring Break as much as his youthful group of gal hedonists. He delights in each pound of flesh, each gyration, every flirtatious movement.
Back to 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that the negative events recorded in Israel's history serve as an example for the young church in Corinth. They are to flee idolatry. I almost thought that Korine was going here (which still would have been problematic), but he doesn't. Korine's detailing of Spring Break idolatry is not portrayed as something to avoid or flee from. Each of the girls, including the two who see things through to the end, are heard calling their mothers/grandmothers and reporting that they're coming home and going to focus on being good now. The irreality of Spring Break is almost urged as a necessary good, a sort of Amish Rumspringa-style rite of passage that allows one give in to base desires in order to return to a more appropriately-ordered social setting with a new appreciation and conscious appreciation. Experience becomes the crucible of reality. And I think that this is fundamentally wrong. Paul writes, "Flee from idolatry," not "Experiment with idolatry to test your limits."
We do not need to drink the rat poison to know it'll kill us.
In the car, I said that SB is a gangster film and has the same problems as so many gangster films. It makes the lifestyle appealing. It shows unfettered freedom from social responsibility. It may also show the negative consequences that come, but more often than not, this is completely insufficient to counter the overwhelming "freedom" portrayed through the living out of the gangster lifestyle.
I also continue to think that this is Korine's Tree of Life. This is Korine's all-encompassing world philosophy film. It can stand side by side with films like Tree of Life and Melancholia. In rejecting this film, I don't want to belittle Korine's achievement. This is a purest expression of the MTV Beach Party mentality, a mentality that may take different expressions in hipster circles and square circles, but is still very much a dominant narrative paradigm of our time and place.