The Men Who Stare at Goats

is a prime example of a group of talented artists setting the bar too low when they are clearly capable of so much more. As a funny, often very funny look at the military’s investigation into the application of supernatural abilities in conjunction with the psychology/methodology of interrogation it’s certainly entertaining enough, but the potential for serious commentary is almost completely thrown away but for one stark exception.

Toward the end of the movie George Clooney and Ewan McGregor come across what Clooney terms “the dark side”: a prisoner curled in the fetal position of a small windowless cell, shaking uncontrollably as strobe lights flicker incessantly and loud music plays in an endless loop. It’s a powerful depiction of the sort of banal-sounding torture that so many are quick to dismiss with minimizing, misleading labels like “hazing” and “pranks”, and yet it’s a one-off; after that it’s back to screwball antics like spiking everyone’s eggs with LSD.

The singular darkness of this one moment in an otherwise light film hints at what I found out for myself after a bit of looking around. The book that served as the source material for “Goats” apparently told a much darker story, covering the obvious humor in the military’s misguided paranormal experiments but never shying away from the horrible places it eventually took them, the end result being the psychological torture we’re briefly shown in the aforementioned scene in the cell.

So, as I said, entertaining enough, but it just plays things too safe. The creators obviously understood there was more here and yet for whatever reason they punted on it. Too bad, because they really could’ve had something great on their hands. Instead, to stick with the football metaphor, they got 3 instead of 7.

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