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.
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.
Eye Scream: Lyn demonstrates that this is one of The Predator's uses.
Fate Worse than Death: Locking people in small rooms wherein you flash blinding strobe lights at them while continually playing the "I Love You, You Love Me" song from Barney & Friends as loud as you can without making them permanently deaf, until they break from sleep deprivation and sensory overload. Variants of this are actually Truth in Television.
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.
In Name Only: The film is a fictional story about the paranormal CIA department discussed in the book.
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.
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: Averted. 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 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.
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.
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 ithere's even a vague suspicion that the opposing force may be experimenting with something similar.
In the case of the CIA and military's experiments with LSD, this version of the story is quite a bit tamer and less horrific than what actually happened.
The film is based on the factual book of the same name by investigative journalist Jon Ronson, a faux-naif in the same vein as Louis Theroux, who researched his material extensively in the USA and got a lot of off-the-record stuff from official sources.
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.