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‘Haze’ screening reveals a traditional analogy of Greek life

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“Haze” tells the story of an anti-hazing crusade in the aftermath of a fraternity hazing death.

“Haze” tells the story of an anti-hazing crusade in the aftermath of a fraternity hazing death.

“Haze” tells the story of an anti-hazing crusade in the aftermath of a fraternity hazing death.

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen movie columnist

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The feature film “Haze” can be summarized with the phrase, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get in this frat.” This bold line is echoed throughout college campuses everywhere, but never before has it been so vividly captured than in David Burkman’s film, “Haze.”

The story of “Haze” was inspired by the Greek god of wine, fertility and ritual madness: Dionysus. This idea is not fully materialized until the end of the movie, but it paints an eerie parallel to the mythos of modern Greek life culture on college campuses.

The analogy storytelling technique weaved throughout the film indicates a unique level of maturity when handling a subject matter like hazing. Often times, Hollywood’s interpretation and fascination with college culture are meant to be comedic with a “boys will be boys” mentality. “Haze” doesn’t pull any punches and instead opts to give an unasked for invitation into the dark underbelly of Greek life.

Our protagonist is Nick, a determined frat life wannabe ready to embark on the trials and tribulations of hazing inductions from Psi Theta Epsilon fraternity. On the opposite end of the spectrum stands his older brother Pete, a social activist protesting hazing after the death of a student just a year prior.

The brothers’ rivalry allows Burkman to dive into the question of family and, more importantly, “brotherhood.” As Nick forges bonds from the fires of hell week, his own bloodlines become diluted.

Nick’s determination and mindset so commonly mirror that of many young adults in the first phases of their college lives.

“Humans need to shrink our world and feel safe,” Burkman said when asked about what could be the driving force to join a Greek organization. “If you couple that with starting a new life, it can be scary to do that, but we are searching for a place we can call home.”

Burkman also speaks from personal experience as elements and depictions of the hazing process influenced much of the film and stemmed from his time at a fraternity at Indiana University.

“Some of the things I went through were insane, and I fear for my younger self and am grateful that I survived it,” Burkman said. “I felt very alive. I remember more details from those moments than any other time in college. I still have close bonds with my fraternity, but I wonder if I were put into the same situations if I were to do it again.”

The cast, crew and a range of interviewed people shared similar thoughts. Part of the research for “Haze” included talking to people in college, recent graduates and even 80-year-olds about their memories of Greek life. The compilation of these anecdotes paired with Burkman’s voyeuristic and visceral camera style made the film grippingly real.

There were scenes I had difficulty discerning if it was scripted or just happened to be caught on camera. Burkman made a point to cast college-age actors rather than adults. There were lines or actions that were improvised, but most impressive about the performances were that they didn’t feel like characters; they felt like tangible people.

That made it all the more gut-wrenching to sit through. You see people that look all too familiar or remind you of that one friend in your life, and then you watch them descend into sheer madness. Sequences of excessive vulgarity, drug-induced ecstasy, sexual assault and abuse on all levels are hauntingly chilling to see unfold.

Do not be mistaken that “Haze” is just about the guys. Burkman astutely touches on the psychological and emotional harm that sororities can face as well.

“There is a double standard for sororities, but it can be difficult to prove sometimes,” Burkman said. “We wanted to show the relationships between sororities and fraternities and how women can be forced to be seductive or do things against their will as well.”

Whether in a fraternity or sorority, a proponent or opponent of Greek life, anyone can take something away from this movie. It is never meant to be preachy and never sugarcoats, but rather served raw, and the viewer can decide what to take away. This is even reflected in the ambiguous ending.

WSU is not a stranger to Greek organization hazing allegations. In 2011, WSU sorority Pi Beta Phi was sanctioned by WSU conduct board for hazing and underage drinking. In 2011, Phi Kappa Tau fraternity’s recognition was revoked for hazing and conduct allegations.

I want to note that Greek organizations are not inherently bad or good. I have no doubt many have found their respective life-long friends and have gotten more than they could have ever hoped for by joining, but it would be naive not to admit that problems like hazing exist. People are more aware and cognitive of the incidents than ever before. By the time this article is published, another film about hazing, “Goat” will be in theaters. It is clear the behind-the-scenes of Greek life is prominent and worth talking about. Because of movies like “Haze,” those honest discussions can begin to happen.

Although inspired by ancient Greek legend, the core of “Haze” is timeless. It is a seminal absolute must-watch and should be inducted in the pantheon of college canon.

Grade A+

Rating: R

Note: This movie is being shown in select venues and campuses, with a scheduled theatrical release in the near future.

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‘Haze’ screening reveals a traditional analogy of Greek life