Directed by: Andrew Neel
Premise: Based on the memoir by Brad Land. A soft spoken young man (Ben Schnetzer) enrolls in college and pledges a fraternity. In an effort to join this group of masculine men he endures hazing and abuse that escalates over the pledge period.
What Works: Goat could just be an after school special about the dangers of running with the wrong crowd but the movie is more than that. This is a thoughtful story about toxic masculinity and the way abuse and stupidity are normalized within a group. The story opens with Brad, played by Ben Schnetzer, attending a college party with his older brother, played by Nick Jonas. While going home from the party, Brad is assaulted by a pair of locals who viciously beat him and steal his car. After recovering from the attack, Brad enrolls in college and pledges the fraternity where his brother is a member. The organization has its obvious social and debaucherous appeals as Greek life is the gateway to the college party scene. But for Brad, membership in the fraternity means something more. It offers him a sense of safety and comradery and belonging. The indignities that he is put through are about more than suffering his way to a kegger. Brad attempts to recover his sense of masculinity after it was taken from him in the assault that opens the movie. Further, Goat is about the way in which people invest in ideologies and group identities and the way those things take over their lives. That’s true of the brothers of the fraternity who treat membership in their organization as meaningful and their initiation rituals as sacred. But it is also true of Brad and his fellow pledges who have bought into the idea that they must submit to this authority. Like 2015’s The Stanford Prison Experiment, this movie is a dramatization of the way in which people lose their perspective and internalize abusive roles. The filmmakers of Goat present that corruption with brutal honesty. The style of the movie alternates between polished images and gritty, almost cinema verite reality. To the credit of director Andrew Neel, that combination works and the film creates a foreboding mood as the abuse gets more intense. The brutality of Goat is all the more impactful because of the very real characters enduring it. Ben Schnetzer provides a terrifically nuanced performance as does Nick Jonas as the older brother who is torn between family and his allegiance to the fraternity. Also notable is the performance by Danny Flaherty as Brad’s roommate. These actors play their characters as intelligent guys submitting to a stupid system and they embody that contradiction in a way that’s packed with nuance and pathos.
What Doesn’t: The story of Goat is about a young man putting himself through hell in order to gain acceptance with the in-crowd only to finally question why he wanted to be a part of that organization in the first place. The first part of that formula is done very well but the movie rushes through Brad’s epiphany. Given how much suffering he endured to join the fraternity his struggle to disentangle himself from the organization ought to have been more difficult. Also, like a lot of higher education movies, Goat depicts the social experience of college as divorced from any other aspect of the institution, especially classes and the university administration. The student experience is more complicated than that and the relationships between college administrators and Greek organizations (especially those with powerful alumni) is more complex than it is depicted here.
Bottom Line: Goat is for 2016 what Larry Clark’s Kids was for 1994. This is a tough movie to watch but as awful as it can be there is also an honesty about its portrayal of toxic masculinity that justifies the horrors on screen. It’s a good movie that would have been great if it went a little broader but as it is Goat is a disturbing examination of what it means to be a man.
Episode: #614 (October 2, 2016)