Title: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
Director: Grant Heslov
Cast: George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Writer: Peter Straughan based on the book by Jon Ronson
Sometimes, things that happen in the real world are a million times stranger then fiction. Take for example “The First Earth Batallion”. The First Earth Batallion was a secret U.S. Military group that was being trained to use psychic powers against the enemy! This group of soldiers was lead by a hippy/new wave activist/environmentalist Jim Channon. Basically, the U.S. Military gave Channon the okay to experiment with the idea of creating an army that could use mental powers in battle. Supposedly, these “warrior monks” were being trained to do all sorts of new agey bullshit like:
- moving things with the power of their minds
- phasing through walls
- seeing into the past or into the future
- talking to spirits
- having out of body experiences
- stopping the heart of an enemy with the powers of the mind
Of course, these soldiers never really developed any of these special powers (big surprise there!) and the project was shelved. I’m actually extremely surprised that the military actually went as far as they did with this whole stupid idea. They actually went ahead and bought hundreds of goats so that the “warrior monks” or Jedi’s (yeah they actually called themselves Jedi Warriors) could try and stop their hearts with the powers of their minds! There were manuals written, there were designs for special warrior monk uniforms, I mean, this thing got out of hand! Strangely enough, some of the psychological warfare tactics did crossover into real life practical use. The U.S. Army has been known to use psychological torture techniques that stem from Channon’s techniques and research. Like for example, the U.S. Army has been known to play the theme song to the Barney children’s television show for hours on end to Iraqi prisoners of war. But most of the other ideas Channon had to offer (like talking to spirits) were completely eliminated. A couple of years down the line, Jon Ronson -an English journalist- wrote a book on the whole thing which ended up being the movie I will be reviewing today. The Men Who Stare at Goats.
The book on which the film is based on
Basically, the movie follows Bob Wilton, an English journalist who decides to go and cover the Iraq war. While there, he encounters Special Forces operator Lyn Cassidy, who lets Bob in on his secret mission involving meeting up with the creator of the “New Earth Battalion” Bill Django. Will they ever meet up with Bill? Is this whole “New Earth Battalion” thing real? Do these guys really have any psychic abilities or super powers? Bob Wilton decides to follow Lyn Cassidy in order to get to the truth.
I found this movie really interesting for various reasons. Number one, I think it’s absolutely bonkers that the U.S. Military was involved in something like this. I mean, come on, talking to spirits? Phasing through walls? To me, this whole thing just proves one thing: the world is under the control of mad men! They actually spent time and money on this thing! In real life! But whatever, that point aside, the movie decides to take a very interesting route as well.
The religious leader of the "New Earth Battalion"
In the film Jeff Bridges plays the role of Bill Django, the man in charge of creating this new kind of warrior for the United States government. And in the film, he functions very much like a religious leader to this military unit. The soldiers have to repeat a prayer; they give themselves entirely to the guidance of Django, they have to congregate. For all intents and purposes Bill Django is their spiritual guide. So right there and then I said, the film is commenting on religion. On cults. Jamestown and Waco Texas instantly popped into mind. And its true, this is precisely what the film comments on. These men all put their trust in Mr. Django’s new agey philosophy and way of life. He tells them that they will all develop these special powers, that they will all be able to achieve these incredible feats, which by the way seem to come straight out of a comic book. But the unit goes with it, because they trust Django. They trust that he knows what he is talking about because he just seems so enlightened. Or maybe he knows how to talk a lot of bull crap really well?
George Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, the follower; the guy who’s put his complete trust in Django’s teachings. The guy who will do whatever Django tells him to. In many ways, Clooney’s Lyn represents the people who will follow a religious leader to the ends of the earth (something Lyn does in the movie by the way) and live and breathe by their leader’s teachings. One could say that Clooney is blindly following Bill, same way many people will blindly follow a religious leader. Cassidy reads fervently from a manual written by Django for his New Earth Battalion, kind of like the same way religious individuals can read from a holy book, like the bible, the Koran or the Book of Mormon. It is aluded in the film that Lyn was looking for something to believe in, and Django, through his New Earth Battalion, gave him exactly what he was looking for. Which is really what happens to a lot of people looking for spiritual guidance through a religion, they are looking for something to believe in, something to guide them and give them peace in this crazy world. Give things a purpose, an answer.
On the film, Django wants to promote peace and love in the world. In Django’s book, the planet and nature are number one. Peace is the real objective of the New Earth Battalion; their main objective is finding resolution to conflict through the use of non lethal methods. All of Django’s teachings are based on these ideals. In my book, these ideals that Django teaches in the film are good and could actually help make the world a better place. I’m all for peace in the world, the unification of the countries, the end of war. But why did Django feel he needed to link fantasy elements (or the "hippy bullshit" as they are referred to in the film) along with these ideals? Phasing through walls and moving things with the power of the mind are a complete fantasy and go in contrast with the other very real teachings he promoted. Teachings about attainable things like peace, love and unification of the world. This is the same thing that happens in some religions, like Scientology for example, where they offer you this whole way of life that can supposedly help you achieve all your goals and dreams.Unfortunately, if you read the fine print you'll find out that you have to also believe alien warlords named Xenu, and in ghost aliens. Oh and add time traveling to that list. Some religions offer people a new positive way of life. Many of them have teachings based on love and compassion, which are all great things in my book. But why do they feel the need to lace that with a bunch of fantasies that don’t have an iota of truth to them? This is something the film addresses as well, I won’t comment any further so you’ll come to your own conclusions after you see the film.
Free the Goats from their mental slavery!
George Clooney shines as the Lieutenant Lyn Cassidy. He plays his character in a very goofy absent minded manner; a guy who has gone a bit coo-coo with Django’s teachings. He believes it all to be true, and in some ways this helps him get through life, and in others, it doesn’t. He often times gets into a lot of trouble because he thinks he has these special abilities. But also, by just thinking he has them helps him as well. In this way the film comments on how religion can become sort of a psychological comfort cushion. You think you got somebody watching over you, you feel more confident, you dare to achieve more. That’s fine and dandy, but me, I rather rely on my own inner strength and confidence to achieve things then in some mystical invisible being that’s supposed there yet we never see or hear. I guess some people need that additional psychological back up, and all those perfect pre-packaged shinny answers to everything, so as they say, more power to them. I like to live with my feet firmly placed on reaffirming reality. You want to tell me that love, peace and companion are things we have to live by? Sure, Ill buy that for a dollar. Just leave all the new agey hippy bullshit out of it!
Rating: 4 out of 5