The Men Who Stare at Goats is a comic war film directed by Grant Heslov and written by Peter Straughan and released in theaters on November 6, 2009. It is based on the book of the same title by author Jon Ronson, an account of the investigation by Ronson and John Sergeant into attempts by US military forces to use psychic powers.
The film follows Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), whose wife leaves him for the newspaper’s editor. Seeking an escape, Bob flies to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War and to prove to his wife and himself that he is a man. However, he stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a retired Special Forces operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who reveals that he was part of an American army unit training psychic spies (or “Jedi Warriors”) to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, and phasing. The back story is told mainly through flashbacks.
In 1972, U.S. Army officer Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), after accidentally falling out of a UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter in the Binh Duong province of Vietnam, found his men to be unable or unwilling to fire on a female Viet Cong soldier before she shot him in the chest. He then underwent a fact-finding mission prompted by a vision where the Viet Cong soldier says, “their gentleness is their strength.” The bulk of Django’s mission immersed him into the New Age movement so that, when he returned to Fort Bragg in 1980, he had long braided hair and a tattoo of a third eye surmounted on a pyramid on his chest.
Facilitated by the open-minded General Hopgood (Stephen Lang), Django led the training of a New Earth Army, with Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) as his top students. The two quickly developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the New Earth Army philosophy; Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the “dark side”.
Prompted by a doodle in Bob’s notebook (of an eye on a pyramid), Lyn takes him into Iraq. They are kidnapped by criminals who want to sell them to the insurgents, but escape with fellow hostage Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter) and are rescued by a private security detail led by Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick). When the detail is caught in a firefight, the three of them flee. Bob and Lyn then continue on Lyn’s vague mission involving a vision he had of Bill Django.
After taking the wrong fork in the road, their car hits an IED. Bob and Lyn wander in the desert where Lyn reveals that he had stopped a goat’s heart to test the limit of his mental abilities, an action he feels has cursed him. As part of this curse, it is revealed that Hooper conducted an unauthorized LSD experiment in which a soldier killed himself, forcing Django out of the Army.
Eventually, Bob and Lyn are rescued and rehabilitated at a camp run by PSIC, a private research firm engaged in psychological and psychic experiments on a herd of goats and some captured locals. To Lyn’s dismay, Larry Hooper runs the firm and employs Django, now a depressed alcoholic. Bob spends time with Django and learns the ways of the New Earth Army. They spike the water and food of the base with LSD and free both the goats and captured locals. Following this, Lyn and Django fly off in a helicopter, never to be heard from again, disappearing into the sky “like all shamans”.
Bob returns to work as a reporter and writes an article about his entire experience with Lyn. However, he is frustrated in that the only portion of the story to be aired on the news is how the captives were forced to listen to 20 hours of the Barney & Friends theme song. This dilutes his story to the level of a joke, and Bob vows to continue trying to get the bigger story out. In the film’s final scene, Bob exercises his own psychic abilities and, following intense concentration, runs through a solid wall in his office.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
First Published: Dec 23, 2011 – Last Updated: Dec 31, 2012