Sub-Par “The Men Who Stare at Goats” Barely Succeeds as Satire

Russell Ollis

George Clooney stars as Lyn Cassidy in "The Men Who Stare at Goats"
George Clooney stars as Lyn Cassidy in "The Men Who Stare at Goats"

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is a humorous and symbolic view on the top-secret military project code-named the “New Earth Army”, whose overall goal was to make super-soldiers, or “Jedi Knights” as Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) puts it.  The New Earth Army started in the 70s and continued through the 80s, when it was cancelled by the Army.  This film, although deceivingly simple at first, contains a reoccuring theme of anti-war and peace.  Filled with small subtle jokes and some big laughs, “The Men Who Stares at Goats” is at first-glance a sub-par comedy, but has an underlying theme that is filled with symbolism and will make the viewer ponder some important questions on military issues. 

The story starts off with the introduction of journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who is a reporter for the Ann Arbor Daily news.  Bob has some relationship issues.  His wife left him for his editor and he is now looking for a story to prove to his wife that his life is worthwhile.  To do this Bob decides to head to cover the Iraq war, but there is a catch – he cannot get into Iraq because he was not invited to accompany a military unit.  While at the hotel restaurant Wilton bumps into Lyn Cassidy, a former Jedi Knight, who informs Bob of the origins of the “New Earth Army”.  As Lyn tells Bob about the origins, the movie sets into a flashback to exact moment when founder of the New Earth Army Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) first thought of the idea of “warrior monks” that fight with their minds.  With military clearance, Django creates a training program with the motto of “Be All You Can Be”.  After the history lesson Lyn invites Bob to go into Iraq with him on a top secret mission.  While driving in the desert the duo hit a rock with their car while “cloud-bursting” – a practice used by Cassidy that consists of concentrating all the power of the mind into staring at a cloud to make it burst – and then get picked up by a group of Iraqis.  This is where the movie gets confusing.  These Iraqis capture them leading Lyn and Bob to assume that they have been kidnapped by “Al-Queda”.  They end up escaping by Lyn using some of the methods that he learned in his New Earth Army days.  The two escape with an innocent Iraqi named Mahmud, who they spend the night with.  Lyn and Bob are great opposites throughout the first half of the movie.  Lyn, being naive and confident, is in complete contrast with Bob who is unsure of what he is doing and where he is going, as demonstrated in his inability to move on with his life following his wife’s departure.

The second half of the movie moves faster and has much more symbolism in it.  As Lyn and Bob continue their journey Lyn explains to Bob how the downfall of the New Earth Army took place.  Lyn explains how once a new recruit, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), joins the New Earth Army he is jealous of the skill and charisma of Lyn so he tries an experimental procedure on another new recruit.  The experiment ends up going horribly wrong when the recruit walks into the military base’s courtyard naked and starts shooting at his fellow soldiers.  Following this incident Django gets dishonorably discharged and the New Earth Army is cancelled.  After Lyn and Bob’s car gets hit with an IED while driving Bob discovers that Lyn has no actual mission and that they’ve both been going on a wild-goose chase.  The killing of the goat – in Lyn’s mind – cursed the Jedis from then on – “the silence of the goats” as Bob describes it.  Lyn and Bob are finally rescued by a phsyc ops company led by Larry Hooper code-named PSIC.  Upon arriving at the base they discover that Django is an employee and is depressed about it.  Getting some enthusiasm from Lyn and Bob, Bill joins up and together they try to gain redemption on Larry and the goats.

The film at first seems like any other comedy, but with “The Men Who Stare at Goats” it has a deeper meaning.  Being composed of “warrior monks” the New Earth Army is symbol for a peaceful solution to warfare, considering that the Jedis can do the same actions as a regular soldier, but without weapons and any injuries.  The use of the song “More Than a Feeling” by Boston within the movie isn’t a coincidence.  The song pertains not only to the time period in which the New Earth Army would have been around, but to the overall message of the project, which was to spread peace and love. 

Although confusing and slow-moving at some parts “The Men Who Stare at Goats” picks up in the second half of the film, but still falls short of the effect it intended on the audience.  Full of laughter and drama, this film has some deep roots that separate this from being a mediocre comedic tale to a memorable movie.  Even though “The Men Who Stare at Goats” had all the right ingredients for a meaningful comedy, it was not cooked right.