King’s of Summer is a film from 2013 that is well worth watching. I imagine watching it with my son sometime late in high school. It captures the ways in which we stretch out toward manhood, fail, and find something far larger waiting for us in the reaching.
The film concerns three boys who run away from home and build a house in the middle of the woods.
Two of these young men, Joe and Patrick, are disrespected and unguided by the adults in their lives. I don’t want to dwell on the complexity of guilt and responsibility here, of parents who fail to step up, of children who reject the authority of their parents.
It seems in placing the blame the point is missed. Every man comes up short.
Every man falls short even of his own ideal. Whether in the role of father, son, lover, protector, friend, we find ourselves now and again radically missing the mark.
And yet we all must make that transition from adolescence into manhood. We are called into a stage of life in which power and responsibility, in which freedom and dignity assert themselves in new ways which we call adulthood, ways which continue to perplex us long after we believe we have become men (or women).
The film gets all this right.
Along with the confusing, impossible demands of our calling, it gets manhood itself right, in as much as manhood is not something we discover on our own or can bestow upon ourselves. The fill depicts manhood as something we stumble into through the dynamics of something like a tribe.
Joe goes out into the wilderness and finds that the wilderness and self-reliance don’t hold everything that he has longed for. He also finds that he is not really up to all this self-reliance.
This results in him violating one of the promises the guys make to each other. He brings someone to their secret home…a girl. In this lies the major drama of the last act in which the girl chooses not Joe, but Patrick.
It is perhaps in disappointment, in jealousy, in heartbreak that all the virtues and powers of manhood, all its freedom and dignity must truly discover themselves. After all, how manly is it to be charitable or virtuous when everything is going our way?
Joe is not charitable. He is angry, vindictive, and acts like any ordinary kid, like any ordinary man might.
But in the end he stands by this girl protectively and discovers something bigger than the heart he knew. Significantly, it also takes, in part, the acknowledgment of his father, played by the ever excellent Nick Offerman, to help him traverse this ground.
There are so many ways in which aspiration meets reality in this film that I can only suggest one watch it and see.
Am I wrong to think a gentle but terrible mercy is woven into its narrative, the same thread that God weaves into the reality of manhood?
Did I mention that the movie is eminently quoteable? Treat yourself and your son on the verge of manhood, watch a film together and remember to speak words of mercy and blessing to that boy who like you needs to know how deeply pleasing he is to his father.