The Kings of Summer holds a powerful lesson for men young and old alike, one that Christian Clifton hopes more will realize before it’s too late.
Last week I finally got around to seeing The Kings of Summer, a movie I could best describe as Juno meets The Sandlot. It is an indie-film, so be ready for some whimsy but this is balanced well with depth. If you’ve never heard of it, or are on the fence about it; see it.
The film follows the story of a trio of boys; Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio as they escape into the woods for a few weeks one summer. Joe is running from his broken relationship with his dad in the wake of his mother’s death. Patrick just wants to escape his oblivious parents who seem to ignore his every word and action. Biaggio is just along for the ride, we don’t get much back-story on him but his oddness serves a good bit of humor to remind us that these are teenage boys.
At the surface the boys are on a quest for freedom from their normal lives. Broken homes and unhealthy relationships paint a stark contrast to the joy and peace the boys find once they settle their new home among the trees. On a hike one day Joe drives this point home with a yell of “Freedom!” from the top of a hill. They found paradise away from the rest of the world, something I think everyone wishes for at one time or another.
However there is something a bit deeper to this movie; a point that is only hinted at in dialogue but that plays out on screen with quiet subtlety. These three high school boys are at the age when “manhood” is just around the corner and yet they are seeking it out full force. In The Kings of Summer the boys comment multiple times that they are men because they succeeding in building a shelter in the woods, finding their own food (or buying it from Boston Market), attaining autonomy, or just because they no longer “need” their parents.
It takes some time but the trio, each in his own way; realize that becoming a man is not a sudden experience defined by a single event. There is great power in realizing that becoming a man does not happen all at once, but rather is a steady progression of change that brings us out of boyhood. This process may take years or even decades; most men would agree that age often has little to do with the true measure of a man.
I grew up looking forward to the day when my age was sufficient to be labeled a man and no longer called a child. I was so sure that one day some amazing affair would symbolize my maturity and from then on I could proudly wear my badge of “Manhood”. Yet as I pass further and further beyond the legal definition of an adult, I realize just how foolish my idolatry of a number was.
When I reached adulthood, my 18th birthday, I did not have some incredible “Freedom!” moment, instead I was met with fear and confusion. A short while after this day I was moving off to college and making choices about the rest of my life when only months ago I still needed permission to leave class to use the bathroom. In the years that followed I was only saved by the grace of wiser men and women in my life, who helped me gain my bearings and learn the value of this new label. I was lucky in having a support system for my venture into adulthood, something not everyone can say.
Boys do not become men just because a certain date has passed, but through their actions and thoughts. Just because I can vote, drink, get married, pay taxes, and volunteer to serve my country does not somehow make me more of a man than I was a few years ago. What truly separates me from the boy I was is wisdom gained from failure and success, humility brought on by accepting defeat, and the epiphany that the world does not revolve around me.
The United States is not alone in treating adulthood more as a number than a process, it is a worldwide ideology that creates immature adults. To combat this would take a huge amount of action from everyone involved; parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, bosses, and just about every other person in the world. It would be hard, but perhaps would lead to greater things from the next generation.
We can teach boys to accept the process and help them become better men by changing the way they think about manhood. If we guide them through it as the journey it truly is, instead of dumping an unearned title on the masses as the clock strikes midnight, they can and will grow into men with much more ease. A stint in the woods like the boys in The Kings of Summer might not work for everyone, but maybe the wisdom of someone who has already been there can help give some perspective on what growing up really means.
Photo: You Tube Trailer