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Harmony Korine
USA, 2013

This past year was a chaotic and delirious one for my personal life. Forlorn and newly abandoned by my partner of 11 years, I found myself adrift in Los Angeles for a stretch of months, coursing through my heart’s newly-heated molten rigors. I had (at least) three kinds of angels to help me in my confusion of curdled love: a couple of amazing friends, the poetry of Anne Carson, and Harmony Korine’s depraved ode to America’s armchair metaphysics of halted time and pleasured oblivion. Spring Breakers was a film at least as chaotic and delirious as my heart had become, a pop-art masterpiece that indulged the rhythms of clichéd obsession without irony, and gleefully spurned the unity of narrative time. It was what I needed at the time I needed it. A film about the beauty of apparently hackneyed desire lived to a point of unendurable purity, Spring Breakers was the perfect balloon to help lift my overburdened thoughts. Easily misread as either simple exploitation or satire, Korine’s film seemed to be about inhabiting (formally as well as thematically) the grimy, debauched, idealistic hunger for self-annihilating pleasure, daring its audience to conceive of a form of life or art that could summon a more poignant sense of beauty or a sturdier form of love. There isn’t one.

I saw the film at LA’s Arclight Theater on a crowded Saturday night, sandwiched between my intellectual friends and the adjoining herds of glossy-haired girls. When James Franco serenaded his trio of bikini-and-balaclava-clad, shotgun-toting love sprites with a sunset rendition of Britney Spears’s “Everytime,” the crowd erupted in spontaneous joy and began singing along with the loving, long-memorized attention that only lyrics to pop songs can command. It was an atmosphere that perfectly captured the giddy, uncynical abandon that makes the film’s tone so hard to pin down, and that made it, in my estimation, the riskiest and most experimental film of the year. Korine is earnest about the lures of Spring Break in the same way that Melville is interested in whaling: as a chimerical idea, at once nihilistic and utopian, capable of consecrating the heart of anyone foolhardy enough to embrace it without condition. In a year when Terrence Malick’s rootless visual alchemy of melancholic imagism in To the Wonder felt belabored even when beautiful, Korine’s film was the real thing, giving a new kind of vampiric, gold-studded teeth to the non-narrative style of Malick’s recent work.

Watching Franco at his white piano, repetitively plinking his single note of soured love and spouting his improvised fairy tale lyricism, it seemed like cinema had a future it had not yet discovered. “Four little chickies… came down to the beach… four little chickies… got out of my reach…” Spring Break forever, obviously.