In the whole history of film, roughly how many movies do you think have been made which feature a former Special Forces operator who repeatedly refers to himself as a Jedi Warrior, boasts about his amazing powers of situational awareness and, in a pivotal scene in the film, kills a goat? And what are the chances that, having chosen two DVDs more or less at random from the video rental place, I would end up watching both of them on the same weekend?
In The Men Who Stare at Goats, George Clooney plays a “psychic spy” named Lyn Cassady, who introduces himself to Ewan McGregor’s character this way:
Lyn: Let me ask you something. What color were the chairs in the hotel bar? You were in there for hours. What color were the chairs?
Lyn: Beige. How many lights are there in this room? A Super Soldier wouldn’t have to look. He would just know.
Bob: A Super Soldier?
Lyn: A Jedi Warrior. He would know where all the lights were. He could walk through a room and he could tell you how many power outlets there were. People are walking around with their eyes closed. At Level One, we were trained to instantly absorb all details.
Bob: What’s, uh, what’s a Jedi Warrior?
Lyn: You’re looking at one.
Bob: You’re a Jedi Warrior?
Lyn: That’s correct.
Bob: I don’t… I don’t know what that means.
Lyn: I’m Sergeant First Class Lyn Cassady, Special Forces, retired. In the eighties, I was trained at Fort Bragg under a secret initiative codenamed “Project Jedi.” The objective of the project was to create Super Soldiers.
As part of his Jedi training, Lyn was supposed to try to kill a goat just by looking at it — which he did.
Lyn: Hooper and Holtz wanted me to do an experiment. They wanted me to stop the heart of a goat. What had the goat ever done to me? It was completely against the way of the Jedi. I was just gonna pretend to try, so that they can see it wouldn’t work and they can forget about it. Then, as I sat there I felt this pulse inside me. I couldn’t stop it. Maybe deep down inside, some dark part of me wanted to see if I could do it? . . . That was it. I’d used my powers for evil and it’s as if I brought a curse on us all. It’s like that poem where the guy kills the seagull and they make him wear it around his neck. Every night I would dream about that goat, it’s mouth opening and closing without making a sound.
Bob: The silence of the goats.
Lyn: I finished my tour and I quit. I walked out. I never went back.
Vn has never seen any of the Star Wars movies, so after the movie I had to explain to her what a Jedi was. So it was pretty weird when, the next day, we were watching a completely unrelated movie and the Jedi Warriors turned up again. This time it was A Perfect Getaway, in a dialogue between Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Cliff (Steve Zahn):
Cliff: So, you were, like, Special Ops. What were you? Seals? Rangers?
Nick: Officially, I’m only allowed to say that I’ve been a sworn officer participating in a tactical phase of certain missions that would make most men want to crawl up and hide inside their own assholes.
Cliff: And unofficially?
Nick: I’m a goddamn American Jedi.
Later, Nick and Cliff are looking out into the jungle, having heard some sounds.
Nick: Probably just a goat. There’s a lot of them in these valleys.
Cliff: I haven’t seen any goats.
Nick: I don’t expect you would, Cliff. Your situational awareness kind of sucks. That’s not a knock. You’re a screenwriter. I’m a Jedi. That’s just different paths we chose.
* * *
Cliff: Just so I know whether or not to be offended, define “situational awareness.”
Nick: What’s the first thing you do when you step onto a plane? Maybe you have a sip of that fine champagne? You do fly in first class, right?
Cliff: I put away my shit, like everyone else.
Nick: Well, when I board a plane, making my way back to the cheap seats, I clock every door. I pace off the distance between those exits and my seat. That plane loses power on takeoff, I can make egress in the dark, totally blind. If the aisle crowds up, I’m going to climb over the back of 36D, guy with that shiny-ass toupee, make the over-the-wing exit. And I know the handle swings down, not up. And I know the door swings in, not out. And I know all that inside of 30 seconds, before they even pop the cork for you up there in Hollywood class.
Some time later, Nick disappears in the jungle for a while and comes back, to everyone’s surprise, carrying a huge goat which he shot, which he and his girlfriend proceed to butcher as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. Cliff, who had had his doubts about traveling with Nick before, decides that with the goat “these two have graduated to the officially crazy category” and that he needs to get away from them.
So, two movies with nothing in common — except the whole super-observant goat-killing Special Forces “Jedi” thing. A Perfect Getaway was released on August 7, 2009; The Men Who Stare at Goats just three months later, on November 6 — too close together for the one to have been a deliberate homage to the other. Was there just something in the air, or what?