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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Spring Breakers & Mythic Descent into the Underworld

Spring Breakers: Vanessa Hudgens as Candy, she's the Ishtar of this shit.

Movie Review
Spring Breakers
p. 2013
d. Harmony Korine

  It seems impossible to me that someone could go to Spring Breakers and actually write a review where they make statements like "I didn't like it." or "Spring Breakers is a bad movie."  If you didn't like Spring Breakers, you are an idiot, and if you can even contemplate saying "Spring Breakers is a bad movie." You have bad taste in art.

 In fact, Spring Breaker is an amazing movie. As should be clear to anyone who sees the film, Harmony Korine has created a contemporary retelling of the classic "Hero's Descent into the Underwold" one of the most long-standing enduring myth's of world culture.   The oldest telling is the pan-Ancient Near East myth of   Tammuz and his mother/love Aphrodite/Ishta/Inanna:

Inanna Goddess of Heaven and Earth, Akkadian

According to the myth of Inanna's descent to the underworld, represented in parallel Sumerian and Akkadian tablets, Inanna (Ishtar in the Akkadian texts) set off for the netherworld, or Kur, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, perhaps to take it as her own. Ereshkigal is in mourning at the death of her consort, Gugalanna (The Wild Bull of Heaven Sumerian Gu = Bull, Gal = Great, An = Heaven). She passed through seven gates and at each one was required to leave a garment or an ornament so that when she had passed through the seventh gate she was a simple woman, entirely naked. Despite warnings about her presumption, she did not turn back but dared to sit herself down on Ereshkigal's throne. Immediately the Anunnaki of the underworld judged her, gazed at her with the eyes of death, and she became a corpse, hung up on a meathook. (WIKIPEDIA)

  In this retelling, you can see some of the story elements of Spring Breakers clearly:  sisters...go to the underworld... pass through seven gates taking off their clothes at each one...  In Greek myth this story became the story of Adonis and Ishtar.  In Roman myth it was the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.  The correspondences extend beyond the Mediterranean- Norse myth features the tale of Lemmink√§inen's rescue from Tuonela by his mother.  And who can forget the Welsh version: Pwyll's descent into Annwn in the Welsh Mabinogion.

  Spring Breakers is not simply a retelling of the old myth- there is no kidnapping, no retrieval of consequence from the underworld.  Rather Spring Breakers mirrors the structure of myth- of the underworld descent myth, without overtly announcing it as a source of inspiration.  (GOOGLE SEARCH SPRING BREAKERS & DESCENT INTO THE UNDERWORLD MYTH)   In mythic fashion, Korine uses the techniques of contemporary film to mirror the jumpy, lost in time and space form in which we moderns receive myth- a sentence from a tablet dug up in the Mesopotamian desert here- a retelling from a Greek Shepard a thousand years later, learned analysis from a German scholar two thousand years after that, translated into English by a different scholar a generation later- that's how we learn about myth- not in a jaunty made for tv narrative retelling.

Spring Breakers: Ashley Benson as Brit, the Ereshkigal of Korine's retelling of Inanna's descent into the underworld.

     Harmony Korine has always understood that, and every one of his films has embraced this mythic style.  It's easy to focus on the sensationalistic features of Spring Breakers: the debauchery, the exploitation of young female body parts, but that really misses the point of the film.  After all, if an Artist depicts the tortures of an underworld a la Dante critics do not castigate him for "accurately" depicting the tortures of hell.  Assuming that the St. Petersburg of Spring Breakers is a mythic underworld, one would EXPECT to see scenes of unimaginable horror.  Similarly, to castigate Korine for "judging" the leisure time rituals of America's youth misses the point that Spring Breakers is a work of art- it's not a documentary film made by Korine with the intent of getting teenagers to stop partying at Spring Break, or with the intent of raising awareness of the evils of Spring Break.  

  Spring Breakers is demonstrably a successful work of Art because of its demonstrated ability to evoke a strong emotional response: both positive and negative, from an Audience.  When a great work of Art evokes a strong negative emotional reaction from the Audience, that is almost more impressive then evoking a positive emotional reaction because after all, one would expect a great work of art to be hailed as such.  Making a work of art that is difficult and alienating while still being great is the most impressive artistic achievement of all, and Spring Breaker is that work of art.

  Harmony Korine can quit now because Spring Breakers will live forever.


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