If you look at the marketing material from “Spring Breakers” — the posters with former Disney starlets hamming it up and the trailer with them firing guns — it’s not difficult to assume that the Harmony Korine film is about Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens getting in trouble in some trashy beach town. But here’s the secret about “Spring Breakers”: It’s not about Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty.
It’s all about Alien.
And we’re not just saying that because of how obscenely quotable James Franco’s character is. (That may have helped him reach the #1 spot on our 50 Best Characters list, though.) Alien is essential to “Spring Breakers” because of how central he becomes to what we’d argue is the message of the movie.
First of all, it’s important to notice how Alien enters the film. He lingers in the background through the first act, performing at a concert and then reappearing to bail the four girls out after their drug arrest. As soon as he takes his little chickies under his wing, Alien quickly moves to the forefront of the story, which shifts to his criminal exploits and his burgeoning rivalry with Archie (Gucci Mane). Once Alien is firmly established, the story becomes almost like a video game, as one-by-one the girls leave and he watches over as the one left to figure out what it all means at his oceanside piano.
What Alien doesn’t see is that there are two kinds of people in the world of “Spring Breakers”: those who can love everything spring break represents (excess, violence, essentially evil) and those who pretend to. Alien clearly and mistakenly fashions himself as the former.
He gives an aggrandizing speech about how all of his possessions and his desire to do bad make him powerful, his own version of the American dream, and as someone who has achieved the ultimate level of spring break, he gets to observe the four young chickies attempt to do the same. Faith, not coincidentally, can’t handle the idea or even attempt to embrace evil, and Cotty quits after seeing what harm the lifestyle can do.
So as a final test for the two chickies he likes best (rhyme!), Alien conceives of a plan to take care of his Archie problem once and for all, but as soon as the raid looms on the horizon, the cracks in our extraterrestrial hero’s confidence begin to show. Looking past all of the nakedness of the three-way in the pool, Alien can’t quit asking Brit and Candy whether they want to go through with the attack on Archie, and he’s clearly scared and hoping they’ll be the ones to back out.
He’s failing his own test. It’s almost as soon as he hits his enemy’s dock that a single bullet takes him out, showing just how much of a front he was putting up. The two girls in bikinis, however, wipe out the entire compound. They are literally the only partiers at spring break who actually mean it when they say, “Spring break forever.”
Yes, Alien is hilarious, but he’s an essential piece in a beautifully trashy and darkly funny story, not just for the entertainment value of watching him show off all of his sh–, but because of the movie’s surprising final statement and the twist about who he really was.