300 Movie Review: Initiation by Violence?

By Sam Jolman | October 10, 2007

How does a boy become a man? Does puberty usher him in? What about a first kiss or that first time behind the wheel? If you’re at all familiar with the masculine journey, you’ll know that a much deeper, more deliberate process is required to grow boys into men. We’ve named it initiation. With the help of older men, especially a father, a boy’s awkward cumbersome adolscent strength is tested and affirmed and ultimately blessed within him. Through this process, his young boy heart stretches and grows and swells to fill out his new man-size body. This makes him into a man… those really good men we all need and want, those who love sacrificially and risk and cry. Men with a heart.

We’ve lost this concept, this ritual amongst men. So most men are trying to find it, even if they don’t know it by name. We’re all trying to become courageous men. I too am searching for initiation. I recently watched the movie “300” for that reason, knowing it deals with initiation. And it does… in terrrible ways.

The movie begins by walking through the story of how Spartan boys are intiated. 7 year old youths are violently ripped away from their mothers by the fathers. Thus inagurates many years of testing by violence. Fathers brutalize sons until they can fight back with strength. Sword training involves fathers bringing fists to the face of their sons. Even the boys themselves must attack each other to the point of murder to be blessed as real men. The use of wilderness – sending boys to the God given masculine training ground – involves starvation, brutal cold, and terror. Boys are trained to hate and kill. No place is given for mercy or love. Masculinity, in the Spartan eyes, is a hard steel coated thing, as inpenetrable as their molten shields.

It’s easy to write off this masculine ritual by such portrayals. I myself sighed, “Good God, is this what men need? Is that how I become a man?” In ways, we do need male intervention with mom. We do need to be invited into the world of men, deliberately. We do need hardship and suffering to grow up. We do need wilderness to find life, to be tested, to rub with something more powerful than ourselves. But we need the kindness of men just as much. We need to learn how to weep as much as we need to learn how to shoot a shot gun.

Thank God his fathering is neither passive nor brutal. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12). We have a Father who disciplines his sons and lavishes his love.

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