The Men Who Stare at Goats – Movie Review

The Men Who Stare at Goats

(Movie Review by Stacey Tuttle)

“That’s why I’d fallen for Lynn’s stories, followed him out into the dessert. We are looking for something to believe in, to give our whole lives to.”

I think I’m still undecided if the Men Who Stare at Goats is silliness or really deep. It’s possible that they are making some strong statements about the New Age movement. It’s also possible the implications of their statements are intended to reach broader than New Age—to all religion. I think that distinction will largely depend on the bias of the viewer. However, I do suspect that beyond the intentions of fun and off beat humor, the script is also intending to make fun of the New Age movement.

New Age philosophy infiltrates the military via a bunch of hippie, druggie military guys who are impressed with their ability to kill goats and burst clouds, simply by staring at them. The military value for these “skills” is questionable – admittedly. The whole movie has you wondering where they are going with it all – and then comes this explanation, this very significant statement about what we are all looking for. “We are looking for something to believe in, to give our whole lives to.” This innate need for something bigger than us to devote our lives to is the reason why such ridiculous “powers” are enticing to the characters in the flick. This statement is profound and perhaps made all the more poignant by the absurdity of the movie.

The question that bears asking as a result of this movie is what things are people giving their lives to? What religions, causes, etc. attempt to answer the need we have as humans to believe in something and give our whole lives to it? Which of those things are, in the end, really just ridiculous and which are actually valid? And is it possible that we devote ourselves to good causes, but to safe causes as well –causes that don’t “rock the boat” too much. It is possible that there are more important causes but they are controversial, so we play it safe and devote ourselves to one which is less “offensive”? I question if this is why people get so committed to various earth-friendly causes. It is great and important and significant to save the whales and the rain forest. However – are those causes big enough to be worth our lives? Is it possible that some of those causes are important, but also safer and less controversial than the cause of a people group which is being persecuted? Please understand, I’m not pointing fingers or even decided on the answers, I’m simply asking the questions—and doing so with a guilty conscience knowing that I am guilty of firmly shouting from atop soap boxes of lesser importance.

Not only do we get involved with various causes to assuage our need for something to believe in and belong to, but certainly religion is the primary answer to this primal need. I read a chapter in a book once (When Heaven Invades Earth, by Bill Johnson) which asked the question why the increased interest in the occult and New Age. It posited that New Age and the occult offer a person power—much like in The Men Who Stare at Goats, only the power is often much more enticing than the ability to burst clouds with your mind or kill a goat pointlessly. It also commented that so often Christians are offering the non-believer a life of rules, but focus little on the relationship that Christians have with the all powerful God of the universe who acts in response to prayers on our behalf and in this earth and lifetime. He thinks it is no wonder New Age or the occult is often more enticing than Christianity—we want to believe in something more than us, something more powerful and significant—and suggests that the Christian life is intended to be more than many believers are experiencing and representing to the non-believing world.

The truth is, The Men Who Stare at Goats hits on something profound – man’s eagerness to find something to believe in. It also points out, accurately enough, that people will fall for absurd stories, and follow ridiculous causes into an absolute desert of hopelessness and emptiness, if they think they may have found something to believe in and give their lives to. The question I am asking myself is whether or not I am doing a good job of pointing others to the ultimate answer to this question, this need. Am I pointing others to the Triune Godhead in a way which makes him appealing and reveals how he fulfills their needs? Do they see, because of my life, that the Lord is the one thing truly worth giving their lives to, the one thing worth following into the deepest desert? Do they see through my life that there is power in the blood of Jesus, or do they simply see a life of good behavior? I think the greatest shame of all is that someone might say of me what was said of Lynn – that someone had fallen for my stories and followed me into a desert (real or proverbial) simply because they were looking for something to believe in, only to discover it was all pointless and wasted. Oh that we might point others  to the Answer.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What things have you given your life to?
  • What cause or religion seems to best answer for you the questions of what is worth believing in and what is worth giving your life to?
  • Do you ever question if the things you are giving your life to are maybe safe and maybe valid, but also maybe lesser things? Do you ever question if there is a better thing to devote your life to?
  • Why do you think the disciples were so willing to drop everything, their occupations, families, etc. to follow Christ? Why do you think they (and countless other martyrs) were willing to die for their belief in Christ, rather than recant and save their skin? Is there anything in your life you would die for?