Within the span of a couple months, audiences and media have
witnessed the debauched excess of the American Dream gone sour, of attractive
young men and women imbibing themselves to delirium, violence and
self-destruction. If there ever were a comment on the failed hopes and ideals
of our current generation, “Spring Breakers” and “The Great Gatsby” – those strange
fraternal twins of apocalyptic party cinema — would not be it.
That’s because these two movies – and
I’m not the first to say it – are so clouded, confused and contradictory in
their class, social and racial politics that to call these films savage
critiques of America’s culture of capitalism is to misjudge the audience’s delight
in their hedonistic displays of drinking, dancing and beautiful white people.
“This is the fuckin’ American dream! This is mah
fuckin’ dream, y’all! All this shee-yit! Look at my shit,” screams James
Franco’s amp-ed, over-the-top drug dealer Alien, listing his material
possessions not unlike Gatsby’s garment throwing binge, in which he throws
dozens of fine cotton clothing atop Daisy Buchanan. (Alien displays shorts;
Gatsby showers dress shirts).
These hallucinatory materialistic displays are supposed to
be extreme, of course, so extreme to induce a kind of laughter and
self-critique. But I don’t think “The Great Gatsby’s” $51 million take at the
box-office is about self-critique. It’s about Jay-Z’s music, bling and partying like
there’s no tomorrow.
Gatsby’s quest may be about preserving an impossible past,
but both films relish in the meaningless gaudiness of a superficial present,
whether embodied in flapper pantsuits or neon spandex, endlessly gyrating and
bouncing for the voyeuristic male auteurs behind the camera. (Black characters in both films are mere window dressing, either exotic or grotesque or both).
Why do both films end on ocean-side docks, one decorated with splashes of green neon, the other haunted by a
green-light whose symbolism is as sentimental as its vapid? Bridges to nowhere, perhaps.
During these conclusions, I must admit I favor Korine’s surreal blood-splattered
cynicism; at least by that point in the film, if the kids haven’t fled the theater,
it’s hard to take vicarious pleasure in the apocalyptic display of videogame
violence. Unlike “Gatsby,” where the most gullible are actually meant to identify
with this claptrap, and pretend to forgot why they went to see the movie in the
first-place. Not to feel anything, of course, for if they had, they would be sorely disappointed,
but like the hundreds who were hoodwinked to see “Spring Breakers” because they
thought it was about Spring breakers, but to see what the advertisements
advertised: jazz-age bacchanalia, loose morality, fireworks, and smooth and sexist
gangsta-like masculinity. As Alien says, “I keep it gangsta! GANGSTAAAAA.”
At least Alien is a fake caricature; Gatsby’s fake golden boy is surrounded by so much filmmaking fakery that it’s near impossible to recognize the point of it all. Capitalism sucks, folks. But you wouldn’t know it from watching a Baz Luhrmann film.