A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

October 5, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The very fact that this movie exists is proof that somebody was drinking the cool-aid. In the movie George Clooney plays a man who believes that he once had psychic powers. I think that in reality George Clooney was exercising his own peculiar psychic pull to to bring into being something very strange. He acted as producer on the project as well as an actor, and he’s surrounded himself with a great group of actors in service of a story that quite deliberately defies all credulous belief.

This is the story of a timid reporter named Bob Wilton who sets out for the Iraq war in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his ex-wife and himself. He doesn’t really get to cover the war though because his quest becomes sidetracked when he encounters Lyn Cassady – a former member of the New Earth Army. The New Earth Army is a top secret experimental group from the eighties funded by the pentagon with the aim of unleashing the powers of psychic energy. It’s a crazy collection of mixed up belief systems from the sixties and seventies headed by Bill Django – a military officer who after a traumatic incident in Vietnam went on a journey of discovery in search of a way to heal the world. Django’s unit uses in the flashbacks in this movie a bizarre mix of new age thinking from dance therapy to prayer circles to unleash their psychic energy, and the most powerful among them was Lyn.

There’s a whole lot of back story sprinkled throughout this movie in flashbacks as Lyn and Bob get into deeper and deeper trouble floundering around the deserts of Iraq. It’s all to do with the unlikely origens of the New Earth Army and its inevitable and tragic end. There’s infighting and inrtigue (chiefly from Larry Hooper, one of the newer recruits to the army.) There are impossible psychic feats by Lyn. Ultimately the story in the past and the one on the present intersect in a series of unlikely synchronicities. We discover just what Lyn’s quest in Iraq is, and just whom he is attempting to save.

There is so much about this movie that seems like a sort of meta spoof of itself. Part of it is in the casting. Ewan McGregor, who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, plays Bob Wilton. At several times in the movie Lyn describes himself as a Jedi Warrior and he says he sees Jedi potential in Ewan’s character Bob. It feels like a very deliberate wink at the audience. Then there’s the brilliant casting of Jeff Bridges as the new age hippie Django who created the Jedi order. It’s almost as thought they cast Jeff Bridges as himself, an aging disillusioned hippie. Clooney is, of course, brilliant as Lyn – all mad intense glares and utter conviction as he relates the most improbable claptrap. Then there’s Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper, Lyn’s nemesis who wants to use psychic powers for destructive aims. What a great collection of actors. (Note a quick appearance by Stephen Root as well… always a treat.)

What I enjoyed most about this movie is that right up until the end it leaves it completely up to the viewer to decide what is true about whats going on. You have to decide for yourself if the Jedi powers Lyn goes on about actually exist or are just the results of his own indoctrination. Clearly he believes in them, but as the movie progresses Bob waffles between being on the verge of thinking there might be something more beyond what we generally perceive to be true and fearing that he has tied his fate to the whims of a complete madman.

In the same way the movie itself kind of waffles. It plays the psychic troopers mostly for laughs with a sort of knowing grin to the audience because it knows how silly all of this must sound. On the other hand Clooney plays Lyn as having a deep and complete conviction that everything he relates is absolute truth. He also has a great deal of respect for the stated goal of the New Earth Army to end conflict through psychic means. He wants to be a supernatural warrior for peace, which is a kind of crazy that the movie seems to say we need a little more of.

I suppose you could think of this movie as a sort of subversive discourse on the madness created by war, just in a slightly more loopy way than were used to seeing. More Dr. Strangelove than Full Metal Jacket. I’m left with a desire to hone my own psychic powers and alter the world to make it a better place. Something I try to do on a daily basis.

October 5, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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