Monday, May 31, 2010

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

Watched this a while ago, never blogged it; today seems like a good day to do it. The Men Who Stare At Goats, a 2009 product of the Grant Heslov/George Clooney team. Not quite as good as their last one. But good enough.

In fact, there's a lot wrong with this movie. But it's mostly redeemed by what's right with it. For example. Wrong: Ewan McGregor as a Michigan reporter. He never gets the accent right, and never quite sells us on himself as a sad-sack. Right: Ewan McGregor as the outsider in a movie about self-professed Jedi. That's not the only bit of meta casting: at the film's center (narratively, not dramatically) is Jeff Bridges as a New Age military theorist - somehow uniting both the Dude and Walter Sobchak in one body. (He's consciously channeling the Dude here, too - although as we learned at the Oscars, Jeff Bridges really is the Dude.)

Wrong: this movie as a critique of the Iraq War. It is an Iraq War movie, but only nominally; it doesn't seem really to have anything at all to do with what we've been doing there for the last seven years. Right: this movie as a critique of the society that launched the Iraq War...I guess.

That's exactly what the movie gets right, but it's hard to put that into words, really. The central premise is that in the '70s there was a movement in the military to create kinder, gentler ways of making war - a supersoldier program, but one that defined the super soldier as one who is in touch with spirituality, peace, himself, and nonviolent ways of resolving conflicts.

It's a ridiculous premise, one of the most ridiculous imaginable in 2009. Never mind the fact that it supposedly really happened. It's just impossible, from this vantage point, to imagine an era in which this stuff was taken seriously - not the supernatural stuff, but the peace & love stuff.

But of course Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello said it best: what's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? I mean, the fact that we don't take this stuff seriously now is the biggest indictment of our society imaginable, I'd say. And that's what the movie's about, on one level. It's about ideals flourishing for a brief moment, and then being crushed by the evil in our natures - in this case, somebody comes along and corrupts the movement and instead of new ways of resolving conflict all we get is new ways of torturing people.

So it is an Iraq War movie.

But it's not a bitter movie. That's the strange thing about it, and ultimately the most touching. True to its subjects' hippie ideals, it imagines that the whole thing can be solved by just dosing the whole camp with acid - then, after we free the torture victims, we'll all wander out into the desert and enjoy some self-realization. Even the bad guy will mellow out.

It's not remotely realistic; the movie knows that. But it's not handled as camp, either: the movie gives it to us a very beautiful ideal, no less important for its being doomed.

Who knows? Maybe if someone had just dosed the whole Cheney junta a lot of this could have been averted. At the very least I think this world could use more hippies rather than less...

Happy Memorial Day.

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