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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 7:47 pm | Fair 59º


Cinema in Focus: ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’

The silly farce on paranormal military experiments lacks depth

2 Stars — Shallow

What would the Cold War have been like if the late Timothy Leary, the LSD-induced guru of the 1960s, had been in charge of training the Army? The absurd comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats takes us through every stereotypical New Age event that epitomized life in California 25 years ago, and suggests that the Army looked at the devotees of Leary to become their researchers and trainers to close the “paranormal gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The fact that such a gap didn’t exist was irrelevant. If the Soviets thought that we had such knowledge, then it was incumbent upon us to create the impression that we, in fact, did have these abilities.

The story is centered on a reporter named Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) from a newspaper in Ann Arbor, Mich. Wilton is tasked with making sense out of the strange and unusual stories he has uncovered from war veterans of that era who were part of a secret cadre of “Jedi Warriors” trained by the Army to exercise mind control over objects. He hangs on the words of Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), one of the aging Jedis, who he follows on the back roads of Iraq during the current conflict.

Cassady had been trained by Jedi Master Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who was in charge of the Army’s First Earth Battalion, a unit formed to master the powers of the paranormal in their missions. Between California hot tubs, drug-induced “spiritual experiences” and every kind of mystic prophetic utterance from self-described gurus, Django created a unit whose members believed they could walk through walls, kill with their thoughts and exercise mind control over any enemy.

Wilton is stunned by the revelations he is uncovering, and at the same time completely taken in by the newfound powers about which he is being told. Are they real? Can we stop killing one another by just disrupting peoples’ thoughts about their enemies?

Into the mix we also meet Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), another Jedi who is jealous of the apparent powerful abilities of his colleagues. The New Age movement may have been built on the premise that we will eventually become more loving and accepting, but there is nothing in this training program that deals with the basic human causes of jealousy, anger and self-centered interests. In the end, Hooper sabotages the First Earth Battalion with his self-serving behavior, and an excess of mind-altering drugs sabotages the leaders of the Battalion.

The story is filled with crazy antidotes, but little real story line. It has its funny moments, such as an entire military unit trying to function on LSD, but in the end it’s a silly farce.

It is a mystery why people often have such a hard time having faith in pure spiritual role models such as Jesus that lead from the heart, but with little effort will give themselves over to people of questionable character who perform theatrical tricks of the mind. Maybe it’s our own desire to possess impressive unique powers. Most likely it’s because of the fact that one path requires us to give up control of our lives to a higher power, and the other path seems to put us in control through our own skill. If that is the case, then the latter experience shows us that it is easy to be self deceived.

True peace will come only from a change of heart and a willing desire to give one’s self in sacrificial love.


» Do you believe it is possible for a human being to control matter with only their mind? On what do you base your belief or lack of belief?

» The ability of a scam artist to convince someone is based in part by the desires of the person being scammed. Have you ever been deceived by someone and why did you fall for it?

» The awareness that there is a spiritual reality causes most of us to seek the One who is Spirit. How have you explored your own spiritual life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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