August 20, 2019 | 81° F

'HAZE' movie depicts dark side of greek life

Photo by Jayme Aaronberg |

Their white colonial houses sit on College Avenue like landmarks, and you most likely had your first college party experience in the basement of one of them. You’ve seen them pie each other in the face in front of Brower Commons in the name of charity, witnessed “pledges” run around shirtless in winter temperatures and by senior year, you’ll practically know the entirety of the Greek alphabet solely based on rush T-shirts they wear around campus. With all this considered, it’s hard to imagine a big public university like Rutgers without greek life. 

Recent allegations and incidents involving sexual assault, harassment and hazing have plagued the reputations of fraternities and sororities nationally and even here at Rutgers. In the middle of this seemingly constant scandal, filmmaker David Burkman released “HAZE” at the perfect time. Fun and sexy at first, the pseudo-documentary follows protagonist Nick Forest on his journey to acceptance into a “top-tier” fraternity. The deeper Forest finds himself in the “pledging” process, the more disturbing the film gets, as Forest endures physical and emotional abuse and hurts people he cares about in the process. 

Greek life has always been portrayed as a comedy in movies and TV, and if not as groups of goofballs or bottle-blonde airheads, members of greek life have been depicted in negative, but also exaggerated and corny lights. As a former fraternity brother himself, Burkman wanted to create the most accurate depiction of hazing within greek life as possible, and dedicated two years to researching and conducting interviews with current and former greeks. While most movies that tell hazing stories jump right into “Hell Week,” Burkman said the severity of hazing actually escalates gradually — something he wanted to make sure the film depicted honestly. This way, the viewer can sympathize and understand why a person might endure the otherwise manipulative, cult-like abuses that hazing often entails.

“(Hazing rituals) are kind of fun. You’re being tested, it feels like you’re going to earn something, and everybody else did it, so it is kind of a brainwashing process to have it get worse and worse progressively over time,” Burkman said. “Once you’re in the second or third month and it starts to get really horrific, you’ve already spent months of your time going through this, so you almost feel like there’s no going back.” 

Burkman had no political agenda when he wrote the film — he simply wanted to create an honest and realistic portrayal of the greek world — but admitted that the film took a life of its own as the story raises a lot of questions about the ethics of greek life. 

Burkman is definitely pleased that the film has become a conversation starter, but also hopes “HAZE” transcends the specifics of greek life and hazing. As writer of the film, he based the movie on ancient Greek mythology to illustrate that the issues and relationships portrayed in the film are timeless, human ones. 

“Greek life is a vehicle for exploring human nature,” Burkman said, posing his own rhetorical questions many viewers may have after watching the film. “Think about religions, sports teams, the military, even law firms — Why are we so tribalistic? What is the nature of friendship, family, brotherhood? And do we have to go through something traumatic in order to have deep, long lasting friendships?” 

These questions are larger than greek life, and Burkman hopes the film especially inspires college students, greek or not. Many greek organizations have already begun screening the film — not in a preachy, propaganda way, but simply as a catalyst for discussion on what needs to change about the culture. 

“Any good films do three things: they entertain, they make you feel something and they make you think,” Burkman said. “I hope ‘HAZE’ does those things and works for everyone, especially people in college.” 

Clarissa Gordon

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