‘Goat:’ Baaaaaad Boys

This review contains spoilers

News flash: Boys are stupid. Breaking story: When white men believe they exist in a vacuum, they destroy themselves and ruin everything. Andrew Neel’s Goat, which is based on Brad Land’s memoir, follows Brad (Ben Schnetzer) on the way home from a party one night where he gets brutally beaten by a couple of hoodlums. He spends the summer recuperating and trying to decide whether or not he’ll start college on time at the fictional Brookman University. His brother Brett (Nick Jonas) is already a student and a brother in the Phi Sigma Mu fraternity at the school. Brad decides to go and pledge this perfect archetype of a frat, ostensibly because he feels he has to prove he’s still a man after experiencing a traumatic attack, and the hazing that ensues is truly disturbing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Brad and Brett’s parents practically asked for this trouble when they named their sons. So were the parents of some of the other members of Phi Sigma Mu, Chance, Wes, and Dixon. As cliche as the testosterone-fueled frat boy hazing drama is, Goat’s depiction of the muck is definitely evocative. It dares you to look away. It’s visceral, primitive and uncomfortable in all the ways frat hazing is. It’s effective in the almost physical reaction it provokes. Watching it, you smell the vomit, you taste the stale beer, you are keenly aware of what testosterone can do to a human being. Goat gives you hell (week). But to what end?

It’s only in the last 10 minutes of the movie, only after one of the pledges dies that Brett finally decides this game of torture and degradation isn’t worth it. The other boys in the frat never get that woke. They remain concerned and reflective about the pledge’s tragic death only in so far as far as how it will affect their own personal futures. They’re torn up about expulsion and about job prospects but not about their potential contribution to the stress that led their peer to drop dead. And they never see the light, ever, at any point in the movie.

It’s hard to weather this gross and demeaning activity for so much of the movie without its perpetrators ever getting it. These frat boys are the men who believe they exist in a vacuum, the men whose whiteness and privilege blind them to every other conflict in the world. These are the types of boys who grow up to shoot innocent black people, to make laws governing the bodies and livelihoods of women, to use the power they were born with to never give a f**k about anyone else and never take responsibility for the obvious destruction they leave in their wake. And Goat seems, possibly, quietly, to sympathize with them. Its message is inconsistent; it’s unclear what Neel actually wants to say about hazing, about masculinity. Goat teeters on the “Being a white man is hard” line, and that left a bad feeling in my body.

I found myself thinking three things over the course of the film. These are simple, real-life ways all the internal and external torture these boys endure could have been handled or avoided:

  1. Brad really experiences actual PTSD from his attack. It’s understandable, it’s sad, and he should have been treated by a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist would have been able to treat his symptoms and to say to him that he didn’t have to join Phi Sigma Nu to be prove his masculinity.
  2. Parents exist. We see Brad and Brett’s for a literal second. Parents should have stepped in long before their sons became convinced they needed to roll around in mud in the middle of the woods after chugging a keg of beer to be a respectable member of society.
  3. Every woman depicted in the movie is an object (stripper), opportunity (to get laid), or obligation (nagging wife). The graduated bro, played by James Franco, exclaims with pained exhaustion that he has a wife and a kid before shotgunning a beer, making Brad punch him in the stomach, and passing out. If just one woman could have gotten through to them, they’d have some perspective.

Goat shows that when white men believe they exist in a vacuum, they destroy themselves and others. If these boys were forced to acknowledge that they’re not alone, to talk to and listen to literally anyone else from any other demographic, they would have been able to lift their heads out of that testosterone-laden quicksand.

But the characters, save for Brett and Brad at the very end, don’t learn. Anything. They don’t ever see anyone else. If Neel was trying to say something about the state of masculinity, about the fragility of the male psyche, he missed the mark. Yes, acknowledge the poison that is frat hazing, give us its devastating effects, but then teach these boys how to dig themselves out, how to widen their views and put their experiences into perspective. The way to do that is to show them their internalized notions of masculinity are positively medieval. The way to do that is to make these frat bros experience the stories of other kinds of people, of women, of people of color. Sure, it’s hard to watch a white boy being forced to choke down a toilet-water-soaked banana, but it’s probably harder to watch a white boy learn — really learn — that he’s not the only one that matters. That no matter how hard he personally has it, nearly everyone everywhere at every time has had it harder.

Grade: C

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Isadora Teich
Isadora Teich
5 years ago

Let me start by saying…. White men make the world and all women strive to be a smoking hot white woman.

5 years ago

That moment where someone with zero understanding of the concept of gender role attempts to write a commentary piece on gender role…

5 years ago

Nice Racist BS about White Men you did there! Disgusting! :(

5 years ago

I really don’t understand where race comes into this review of the movie, other than it is about a white male fraternity but there is absolutely no racism involved. I had high hopes for this movie but the ending was just stupid and gave no closure or explanation to the film. It was decent up until the end, a bit surprising with the twist if you didn’t grasp what was going to happen but once it is revealed and the big plot is revealed, it just ended with absolutely no explanation or conclusion to the entire show. Horrible ending to… Read more »

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