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Hallelujah, brah. Harmony Korine is assigning religious allegory to his misfit stoner characters again. In his latest, The Beach Bum, Matthew McConaughey plays the titular bum, a freewheeling writer named Moondog. His followers include his wife (Isla Fisher), rapper Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), and Jimmy Buffet (as himself). Moondog, Korine told GQ, “lives for the second. There's no self-censor. He's just a sensualist. Whatever feels good, he just acts on it. So he does good, and he does bad.”
Moondog is Korine’s take on a man living in the moment, like a burnout Bodhisattva. However, this isn’t the director’s first time creating a prophet. That honor goes to James Franco’s character Alien from Korine’s 2013 MTV-generation magnum opus, Spring Breakers.
Spring Breakers is loaded with religious symbolism. Goody two-shoes Faith (Selena Gomez) and her friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are the film’s "spring breakers" - four bored college girls from a small town trying to party their hearts out on the Florida beach. They are arrested while partying and Alien, a rapper/DJ/drug dealer they met, bails them out. He’s their sadistic savior, Christlike in everyone’s eyes save Faith’s. It’s no coincidence that she’s the first to return home, leaving the other girls behind. They’re Alien’s followers now, so traditional faith/Faith isn’t necessary.
Franco and Korine collaborated closely on Alien’s behavior and dialogue, coming up with much of the latter during rehearsals. Instead of just being otherworldly, Franco and Korine made him God-like. He follows in the tradition of cult leaders and cool-guy Jesus stereotypes peppered throughout pop culture. He's Manson-esque, with a mysterious way of talking and a penchant for revealing his bare chest.
Alien is not the hippie Jesus figure of '90s cinema, best represented by The Dude in The Big Lebowski. He’s vicious and selfish. While his behavior isn’t Christ-like, he appears that way in Candy and Brit's warped perspective. Alien’s Antichrist persona is best explained through his relationship with the God of Spring Breakers bizarre beachside universe, Big Arch (Gucci Mane).
Arch and Alien grew up together. Alien taught Arch how to swim (possibly an allegory for baptism?), while Arch taught Alien “everything he knows”. Alien was supposed to be Arch’s apostle, his first-in-command, his son in every way but blood.
Instead, Alien only preaches his own ridiculous brand of scripture. Spring Breakers' most infamous scene features Alien performing fellatio on two handguns. They're wielded by Brit and Candy, who try to turn the tables on him. It’s probably the only way they could get him to shut up, as the previous sequence is Franco giving it his batshit best. He shows off his belongings to the remaining girls, repeating “look at my shit” over and over.
“Look at my shit” isn’t exactly profound, but it’s a great encapsulation of Alien’s whole vibe. There isn’t anything to him, really, but his ridiculous flashy image. He’s a master of distraction, offering a heavenly escape from the grind to anyone with money or a pretty face. He offers the girls redemption by bailing them out of jail and giving them a place to stay. The moral compass of Spring Breakers is irreparably broken, so it makes sense for its Christ to be obsessed with crass consumerism. After all, God has an ice cream tattoo on his face.
The beef between Alien and Arch eventually becomes too much. After a drive-by incident where Cotty gets shot in the arm, Alien wants blood. He prepares his two disciples for the final showdown and shares a hymn with them – Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. Alien is martyred for his cause, and he dies before seeing any of his dreams come to fruition. Candy and Brit avenge him, however, and manage to take out Arch.
Korine’s blood-soaked Biblical tale is as twisted a take on Christian tropes as you’re likely to see, but he’s invested in them. Examples include: a youth pastor that preaches a warning at the beginning of the film, Faith’s name, and numerous references from the girls to spring break as a paradise. It’s their Heaven, even if it looks hellish to everyone else.
The Beach Bum seems to be the next logical step as Korine examines a more Eastern, ambiguous take on the beachside prophet. While Alien declared his desire to be bad and Spring Breakers deals heavily in the dichotomy of good and evil, The Beach Bum looks like it will experiment with what’s in-between. Moondog is the eternal wanderer, the Dude-esque hippie with a heart of gold - everything Alien is not. Whether The Beach Bum tackles morality and mortality with the same insanity as its predecessor is anyone’s guess, but only one thing really matters:
Spring Break foreeeeverrr.