Ask any fraternity brother about his involvement in the Greek system and
you're likely to receive these simple responses. But inquire how the semester-long
ritual of pledging yields such results and the answers will seem far more
complicated. Most frequently, you'll be told that you can't truly understand
the merits of pledging until you've actually undergone the experience.
Young filmmakers Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland heard that sentiment enough
times and set out to gain a greater understanding of the Greek system by
documenting the often bizarre and very secretive rites of fraternity intitation.
Their findings make up "Frat House," a telling and often humorous
HBO-financed documentary that should really hit home with the college crowd
and surprise quite a few parents as well.
Initially, Phillips and Gurland were granted unparalleled access by a couple
fraternities at unidentified colleges. Their glimpses inside rush events,
chapter meetings, striptease parties and hazing sessions expose an atmosphere
of misogyny and coercion, headgames and activities bordering on physical
torture. As the documentarians began to get closer to the hazing, however,
the once-inviting fraternities became ever hostile and threatening. Phillips
and Gurland were forced to pack up and find another fraternity who would
allow cameras into the house under one condition - that the filmmakeres
participate in the pledging themselves.
"Frat House" takes us all the way through the final painful test
known as "Hell Week" as the filmmakers seek to discover the answer
to their question, "Why do men go to such great lengths to belong to
a group?" We emerge with a certain confusion that sheds little light
on that question, but that's exactly the point. Initiates struggle to provide
sensible answers as well, instead returning to such one-word responses as
"respect" and "brotherhood."
One of the film's highlights is a clever juxtaposition of the riotous rituals
of fraternity pledging and the relatively tame activities of sorority initiation.
As the lovely ladies of Sigma Delta Tau fake tears and struggle to remember
the lyrics to their sisterhood anthem, the pledges of the Beta Chi fraternity
are pushed to the brink of physical torture by their unforgiving "hellmaster."
The hilarious collation makes one wish Phillips and Gurland had only pushed
the pan-hellenic angle further, but perhaps they are saving that for the
sequel, "Sorority House." I can't wait.