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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Men Who Stare at Goats

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie "The Men Who Stare at Goats."
The Army's Cold War-era experimentation with psychic and paranormal techniques of warfare provides the seemingly outlandish, yet fact-based premise for "The Men Who Stare at Goats" (Overture).

Director Grant Heslov's adaptation of British journalist Jon Ronson's 2004 best-seller of the same title registers as a mildly diverting, though disorganized comedy. But this satiric tale of soldierly excess also showcases pantheistic New Age spirituality and implicitly condones its two main characters' indulgence in some questionable high jinks.

Ronson's fictional stand-in is Ann Arbor, Mich., reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor). After his wife dumps him for a colleague, Wilton determines to prove his manly mettle by signing on to cover the Iraq War, then in its early "Mission Accomplished" stage.

Stranded in Kuwait, and shunned by his successfully embedded peers, Wilton is scrambling to find a way into the war zone when he encounters eccentric military veteran Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Though Cassady is posing as a civilian businessman, Wilton recognizes his name as that of a legendary figure in the Reagan-epoch New Earth Army, a secret unit dedicated to cultivating "warrior monks" endowed with such occult powers as remote viewing (the ability to see far-distant objects or events) and invisibility.

Cassady is headed in country and agrees to take Wilton along. As their problem-plagued journey—which involves them, successively, in a kidnapping incident, various car accidents, a spell stranded in the desert, and an urban shootout—progresses, Cassady regales Wilton with the history of the New Earth Army's rise and fall.

Founded by Vietnam vet-turned-hippie Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), the corps—its real-life prototype was known as the First Earth Battalion—flourished until the selfish machinations of a newcomer, Cassady's resentful rival Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey, playing wonderfully easy-to-hate), jeopardized its future.

As we see in flashbacks, Django's training program included the group recitation of a prayer to the earth, one of the pagan devotions that his favored parotege Cassady continues to practice. We're also shown that among the transformative therapies Django sampled during his spiritual metamorphosis was nude co-ed hot-tubbing, though the scene is a short and relatively restrained one.

Peter Straughan's script effectively parodies various aspects of military psychology and behavior. But at times the outlook is woefully simplistic, as in a late-reel scene implying that all Iraqi prisoners of war are abused innocents who should be liberated forthwith. And the moral implications of a practical joke involving narcotics are ignored in favor of portraying it as an amusing lark.

The film contains rear and brief upper female nudity, neo-pagan religious practices, drug use, a dozen instances of profanity, and frequent rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

******
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Philip and James: 
		<b>James, Son of Alphaeus:</b> We know nothing of this man except his name, and of course the fact that Jesus chose him to be one of the 12 pillars of the New Israel, his Church. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is also known as James the Lesser to avoid confusing him with James the son of Zebedee, also an apostle and known as James the Greater. 
<p><b>Philip:</b> Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45). </p><p>Like the other apostles, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. On one occasion, when Jesus saw the great multitude following him and wanted to give them food, he asked Philip where they should buy bread for the people to eat. St. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip answered, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (John 6:7). </p><p>John’s story is not a put-down of Philip. It was simply necessary for these men who were to be the foundation stones of the Church to see the clear distinction between humanity’s total helplessness apart from God and the human ability to be a bearer of divine power by God’s gift. </p><p>On another occasion, we can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice. After Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7). Then Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a). </p><p>Possibly because Philip bore a Greek name or because he was thought to be close to Jesus, some Gentile proselytes came to him and asked him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew went to Jesus. Jesus’ reply in John’s Gospel is indirect; Jesus says that now his “hour” has come, that in a short time he will give his life for Jew and Gentile alike.</p> American Catholic Blog Don’t believe, sisters, that assistance consists only in giving medicines and food to the sick. There is another type of assistance that must never be forgotten, and it is the assistance of the heart that adjusts and enters in sympathy with the person who suffers and goes to meet his needs. –St. Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus

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