Spring Breakers is the most sexually charged film you will see this year. The camera lingers over the female body. The four leads, including Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, seldom wear more than a bikini. And within two minutes bare, jiggling breasts absolutely dominate the screen in an extraordinary and confronting opening sequence. Yet those raising charges of sexism or misogyny against the film have spectacularly missed the point. It is the purest expression of female agency and power committed to the screen, an unchaining from the shackles of patriarchy, and the feminist manifesto of the 21st century.
Bored of their small town, four friends – Brit, Candy, Cottie, and Faith – make a pilgrimage to Florida for Spring Break. Thus begins their descent into organised crime and their relationship with white-trash wannabe-gangsta, Alien (James Franco).
This relationship inverts the much studied ‘patriarchal gaze.’ The camera follows Alien’s eyes as they sweep over the girls from top to toe. Hovering shots imply a lustful sex fiend preying on vulnerable young women. You watch the film uncomfortably. Does your vicarious gaze through the camera make you complicit in this objectification?
But then something happens. Showing off his guns to his female companions, they pounce. Utterly in control of their bodies and their sexuality, Brit and Candy take Alien’s gun and seduce him with it. The scene culminates with Alien ‘blowing’ the barrel of his gun. The symbol of male violence and patriarchal dominance is inverted and the phallus, in the hands of highly sexualised young women, attains new power. The traditional relationship between male and female, oppressor and oppressed, is totally destabilised as the objects of Alien’s gaze dominate him using the very tools of his power. He is a passive victim, sucking the dick of female autonomy.
As the film crescendos we see Alien and the girls committing extraordinary acts of violence whilst Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’ plays over the top. Director Harmony Korine has always made films about outsiders, on the fringes of society. With Spring Breakers he has continued that trend. His protagonists operate outside of the law, outside of traditional conceptions of femininity, and they completely transcend whatever barriers stand in the way of their freedom. Britney Spears, chewed up and spat out by the machine, a figure who has been commodified and trapped by the limits of fame, makes for a chilling contrast.
We are asked to make a judgment on Spears, on the culture of celebrity and sexual violence we have created. What is refreshing about Spring Breakers is that the film has no victims. These strong young women, unhinged and unchained, do not let themselves be defeated by the machine. Wielding the weapons of masculine power and their own powerful sexuality, they break free. Spring Breakers is woman’s glorious escape and revenge. It is a wild ride.