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The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 comedy film about a reporter who attempts to uncover the story of the so-called "Project: Jedi," a secret government organization dedicated to creating psychic super-soldiers with the goal of bringing about world peace.
He eventually manages to find one of the former members of this New Earth Army, who is on a secret mission in Iraq, and joins him. Hilarity Ensues.
Based on a book, which in turn was an account of a true story. No, really.
Tropes found in this film:
- Actor Allusion:
- Ewan McGregor's character is constantly getting into conversations about Jedi Knights, considering that he plays the only one to appear in all six Star Wars films (not counting Anakin).
- When asked how to Remote View, Lyn mentions how some of the other members of the Army did it, including one who envisioned packing all his problems and possessions into a suitcase.
- Kevin Spacey again chooses a huge cigar as a gloating accessory.
- How about how much Bill Abides?
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: While it's most likely no coincidence that Ewan McGregor constantly talks about Jedi, the real organization covered actually did use Star Wars references.
- Area 51: Where Lyn was working when he was discovered.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: In the end Bob implies that happened to Bill and Lyn.
- Ate His Gun: Larry. But only because he had the munchies.
- The Atoner: "Bill, do you believe in redemption?"
- Awesome Personnel Carrier: We briefly see the venerable M113. It gets used in a mild There Was a Door moment.
- Badass: Lyn brought down an armed man with his hands tied in front of him and walked away from an IED explosion in a midsize sedan.
- Because Destiny Says So
- Bee-Bee Gun: A gun that shoots wasps is one of PSIC's ideas in between a non-lethal airbag mine and mutilating enemy corpses-- "We don't do that anymore! Idiot!".
- Note that he was shouting "We don't do that anymore!" in reference to the corpse mutilations, not the gun that shoots wasps.
- Call to Adventure: "I was a Hobbit safe in the Shire, a blond farm-boy on a remote desert planet who had no idea that he was about to be drawn into an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil."
- Character as Himself: One poster lists the Goat as an "actor".
- Cloudcuckoolander: Pretty much everyone in the New Earth Army.
- Crowning Moment of Funny: The Silence of the Goats.
- Cute Kitten: Part of the reason the American army started investigating psychic powers was due to Russian experiments started because they thought Americans were already investigating this. Part of the experimentation did include scaring kittens. Obviously, those Dirty Communists went too far in doing so. America learned its lesson when they their soldiers failed to shoot dogs, and instead abused goats.
- The Dark Side. While the film openly makes it a Star Wars reference, it's more likely a pointed reference to Dick Cheney's line right after 9/11, which precipitated in torture of suspects - the film Taxi to the Dark Side focused on the US military's unbridled violations of the Geneva Convention, which ultimately let to the Abu Ghraib controversy.
- Death Glare: Literally. The reason they're staring at the goats is in an attempt to stop the goats' hearts. It also works on hamsters.
- Don't Try This At Home: The No Celebrities Were Harmed Credits Gag near the very end lists that you should not try killing goats with your mind, trying to run through walls, or cloudbursting while driving. "Invisiblity is fine."
- Enlightenment Superpowers: What the New Earth Army wants to trigger.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Locking people in small rooms, constantly flashing strobe lights on them, and playing the "I Love You, You Love Me" song from Barney and Friends. Variants of this are actually Truth in Television.
- Fun with Acronyms: PSIC
- Godiva Hair: The hot tub scene(s).
- Granola Guy: Bill is the General of Granola.
- Historical In-Joke: The movie claims that the U.S. Army's recruitment Catch Phrase "Be all that you can be," was adopted two weeks after the New Earth Army was formed. This is Truth in Television: Lt. Col. Jim Channon, upon whom the character of Bill Django was based, really did write this slogan.
- Karmic Death: Avoided. Larry nearly kills himself in the same LSD haze that one of his "guinea pigs" did.
- Kick the Dog: Larry takes a bag of Twizzlers off an employee's desk without even asking. What a dick!
- Knife Nut: Ben Echmeyer.. some of his more practical teachings (contrast with Sharing the Male Pain entry below)
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In theory, the whole movie is ambiguous about whether the psychic powers are real, delusions, or deliberate misdirection. The question is generally played for laughs. In the final shot, Bob is shown performing the running through walls trick Hopgood attempted at the beginning of the movie successfully. However, a second after he's shown doing so, a picture frame falls off the wall, implying that he could have actually slammed into it but imagined himself going through. Like every other "paranormal" incident in the movie, it's up to the viewer to decide.
- Meaningful Echo: Bill tells Lyn during the flashbacks that "now, more than ever, we need the Jedi." This is repeated as the closing lines during the final scene.
- Meaningful Name:
- Bill Django could be a reference to Django Reinhardt, an eccentric guitarist.
- PSIC can be pronounced "psych" or "sick".
- Military Alphabet: Oscar Mike
- Mind Screw: This film is full of it. The mind control is implied to be fake, but yet in the last few moments of the film a man runs through a wall. Makes you wonder.
- More Than Mind Control: A few different forms, all of which are implied to be bullshit.
- Never Found the Body: Bill and Lyn. The Army assumes their helicopter crashed or was shot down. Bob thinks they Ascended To A Higher Plane Of Existence.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Don't worry, the American Humane Association can assure you the goats were fine.
- Not Making This Up Disclaimer: The movie opens with a bit of text stating "More of this story is true than you would believe." Immediately after this disclaimer, a mustachioed Colonel Quaritch gets up from a desk and deliberately runs head-first into a wall. The juxtaposition is funny.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: There are a few scenes in which Ewan McGregor is obviously trying to avoid using his regular accent and is failing miserably.
- Porn Stache: Gen. Hopgood and at the end of the film, Bob.
- Private Military Contractors: They get the main characters caught up in a chaotic shootout at one point.
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone
- Psychic Powers: The members of the New Earth Army claim to have lots of them.
- Reality Ensues: One of the more likely theories as to what happens to Bill and Lyn after the end of the movie.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Lyn Cassady owns and operates a dance studio when not on a mission - not as a cover; he just really likes dancing.
- Riding Into the Sunset: "Like all shaman, they returned to the sky."
- Share the Male Pain: "He was also able to lift bags of sand on hooks... hung through his scrotum."
- "Uh, sir, what is the practical application of this?"
- Shoot the Dog: It turns out the army had goats on hand because they couldn't do this - the goats were used to practice dressing wounds in the field, which meant they had to be shot in the leg first. They tried with dogs, but they couldn't bring themselves to actually shoot them.
- The soldiers were referred to as "Jedi knights" (as were the Real Life Counterpart First Earth Batallion soldiers).
- See Call to Adventure.
- The bizarre conversion between Brown and Hopgood fretting that "We can't afford to have the Russians leading the field in the paranormal" is strongly reminiscent of Turgidson complaining of a "mine shaft gap" with the Russians in Dr. Strangelove.
- "The silence of the goats."
- The film also references Being There, especially the ending, echoing the Sellers film's tagline, "Life is just a state of mind."
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The protagonist starts out on the cynical side of the scale, but slides on over to the far idealistic side by the end. The movie itself is up to interpretation.
- Smug Snake: Hooper.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: During the opening credits: Upbeat music played to clips of Bob packing and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
- The Stoner: Bill, and most of the New Earth Army.
Larry: Lieutenant Colonel Django used funds from the project's black budget to procure prostitutes...
Bill: That's a lie!
Larry: ...and to get drugs for himself and his men.
Bill: That... (a beat) ...well, the hooker thing is definitely a lie.
- Subliminal Seduction: The PSIC company gives soldiers music CD's containing subliminal messages such as "Don't get drunk before operating a machine gun."
- There Was a Door: With an M113 armored transport "You're gonna hit the fence! You're gonna hit the fence! crash It's cool! You missed it!"
- Too Funny to Be Evil: How PSIC's "dark side" experiments get played in the press at the end of the movie.
- Touch of Death: Lyn believes that his cancer was caused by a death touch performed on him by Larry almost 20 years before.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Several of the main characters are based on real people, and the basic background about the training is based on actual experiments. As the opening puts it, "More of this is true than you would believe." How much? Read the First Earth Battalion Wikipedia article. Notably, the Actor Allusion criticized by so many reviews was real - McGregor has explained in interviews that they really did call themselves Jedi warriors, and even noted during filming the oddity of it after playing young Obi-Wan.
- If nothing else what is true is that some very strange things can, do and have been funded and experimented with by armies and intelligence agencies when they manage to find the right patron and there's even a vague suspicion that the opposing force may be experimenting with something similar.
- Walking Techbane: Hopgood only discovered Lyn because one day Lyn walked into a room and psychically bricked every computer in it as he walked past.
Hopgood: Did you make those computers go out?
Lin: (sadly sheepish) Yes, sir.
Hopgood: (grinning broadly) Far out!
- War On Terror: The trunk narrative takes place in war-torn Iraq.