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Pray Tell: “Spring Breakers” And The Faith of Faith

Spoiler alert! This post contains spoilers about the movie “Spring Breakers.” 

When I heard that Selena Gomez had been cast in a Harmony Korine movie, my brain kind of exploded. Korine is known for his dark, sexualized films (like “Kids,” which made Chloe Sevigny a star), while Gomez is a Disneyfied, baby-faced princess who until recently was dating Justin Bieber. The trailer and promo pics for “Spring Breakers” showed Gomez and her castmates – “High School Musical” alum Vanessa Hudgens, “Pretty Little Liars” star Ashley Benson, and the director’s wife Rachel Korine – wearing bikinis and little else as they drank, smoked, got arrested, and did drugs. Was this movie going to be Gomez’s “Can’t Be Tamed“/”I’m a Slave 4 U” moment?

Not quite.

Though “Spring Breakers,” like “Kids” before it, had me leaving the theater feeling embarrassed and sort of violated, Gomez escaped the depravity relatively unscathed. Her character, the very-obviously-named Faith, is a good Christian girl who attends church and wears a gold cross necklace along with her skimpy swimsuit. She feels shoehorned into the plot and doesn’t mesh with the other three girls, even though they’ve supposedly been best friends since childhood. Korine makes sure to play up Faith’s isolation from her friends — a scene of Faith at a campus Christian fellowship meeting is intercut with footage of the other three girls robbing a restaurant and torching the getaway car.

Faith accompanies her friends on a spring break trip to Florida and takes part in some of the debauchery (we see some drinking and a single bong hit), but after the girls get arrested Faith freaks out and demands to go home. The last we see of her is on a bus heading back to whatever college they came from. We could draw the conclusion that Faith chooses her faith; that she heeds the advice of her Bible-study friends who warn her to pray in Florida because her spring break companions have “demon blood.” But we know so little about Faith, except that she’s a Christian who fails at keeping up with her party-girl friends, that it’s hard to figure out why she does anything. Ditto the rest of the characters, who are more representations of concepts Korine wants to illustrate than actual living, breathing people.

In real life, Gomez identifies as a devout Christian. She’s reportedly part of an exclusive celebrities-only Hollywood Bible study. (One of the other members? Vanessa Hudgens.) I found myself wondering how much of Gomez’s real life attributes made it into the movie: was it in her contract that she wouldn’t show her boobs or have any sex scenes? Or was it a directorial decision to make her the moral center of an otherwise messy, debauched movie? Having her character front and center during promotion of the movie only to have her disappear before much of the major action takes place makes the movie feel off-kilter and somewhat unfinished.

Ultimately, we don’t have enough information about Faith to decide why she left spring break. The movie is light on dialogue and heavy on cool, neon-drenched cinematography, so we know much more about what her lips look like up close than we do about her personality or emotions. All we have is what she says to her three friends before leaving them behind: “This isn’t what I signed up for.” Which might be the way you feel walking out of the theater, too.

Lilit Marcus blogs for Faith Goes Pop

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