A movie set to hit theaters Friday has a big-name cast and a strange title, but its inspiration is what makes it stand out.
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” stars George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges in a dry comedy about a journalist and his interaction with a military agent who was once part of a secret, psychic government experiment.
The movie is, surprisingly, based on a nonfiction book by Jon Ronson that outlines secret government operations that spanned nearly three decades.
The original cover of the book, which shows a frightened goat with several guns pointed at it, sums up the strange nature of the movie.
“This story is about what happened when a small group of men – highly placed within the United States military, the government and the intelligence services – began believing in very strange things,” the cover on the book says.
In the film, McGregor portrays Bob Wilton, a journalist searching for a story. His leads find a dead end repeatedly, until one day, when new and interesting information about a government project changes everything.
According to the American Chronicle, the government tasked psychic spies to obtain enemy secrets during the Cold War. There are claims that soldiers trained to kill goats and hamsters with a stare.
Ronson, who published his first book in 1994, found his idea for the story when he met Uri Geller, a man who has psychic abilities and claims to have worked with the CIA on a mission it hoped would be kept secret.
For Ronson, this was a chance at finding out the unique “war on terror” the CIA had kept hidden for years. Geller is the supposed inspiration for Clooney’s character in the film, who reveals the same secret to McGregor.
Geller talked about a secret government study – referred to in the movie as Project Jedi – in which participants were allegedly developing psychic powers to be used as weapons.
After an extensive but unsuccessful search for “Ron,” the man Geller said recruited him for the project, Ronson concluded that all the notions were lies and manipulation. Still, with the influence of Geller, he used those ideas for his book.
In the film and in true accounts, the First Earth Battalion is the military unit that uses secret mind powers learned through a manual written by Army Lt. Col. Jim Channon whose inspired character is played by Bridges.
Though a recent article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail said there may still be U.S. government research focused on creating a psychic “super soldier,” Channon’s studies actually worked toward developing non-lethal alternatives to fighting, according to firstearthbattalion.org.
Many of the claims about their practices, like those in Ronson’s book, have gone unfounded and are denied by former members. The book and film will likely only add to theorists’ fire about the Battalion.
For more information on inconsistencies between the book and the film and the actual studies by the First Earth Battalion, visit firstearthbattalion.org.