The Real Documentary That Inspired The Men Who Stare At Goats

Part of the story angle behind Grant Heslov's directorial effort The Men Who Stare at Goats is that the film is based on a true story. Usually I ignore that sort of background when first approaching a movie — I want a film to work on its own merits, rather than as an adaptation or recounting of history — but after the fact it's always fun to look at the real material that inspired a story. In this case, there is a Channel 4 documentary called The Crazy Rulers of the World, the first episode of which is actually called The Men Who Stare at Goats, which leads to the book of the same name that, in turn, inspired the film. Watch (some of) the original documentary after the break.

It's probably pretty well known that the most insane elements of Heslov's movie are based on the documentary and book by Jon Ronson, who discovered that a small US Army unit actually experimented with psychic warfare and walking through walls. The joke is that most of the stuff in the film is quite directly recreated from this episode of Ronson's documentary series. And, as is so often the case, this is better than the dramatic feature, which is unfocused and not nearly as funny as it would like to be. I see why watching George Clooney explain some of these techniques (like how extreme physical violence becomes a "psychic disincentive") is entertaining, but the doc has much more of a punch than the film. Compare this clip of Clooney demonstrating the Predator, to the clip below of the real thing.

When I started writing this story the whole Men Who Stare at Goats episode of Crazy Rulers was on YouTube. Now it's been pulled, so here instead are a few clips from the doc. You can also listen to a nine-minute interview with Jon Ronson about the book that sprung from his documentary.