There are two types of brotherhood: brothers by birth, and brothers by pledge. Goat explores the forbearance of both.
Goat opens with a very long, muted scene of a group of naked adolescent men chanting feverously—they appear simultaneously tortured and ecstatic—this violent combination of the two adjectives seems in many aspects, well representative of the essence of Greek culture. Their collective (beyond cultish) vehemence is puzzling, frightening, and evidently uncontrollable. The young men, as we find out, are frat brothers in a popular fraternity at Brookman University, of the letters Phi Sigma Mu. Directed by Andrew Neel, Goat is based on a memoir by Brad Land by the same title; a narration of a 19 year old who suffers a traumatizing beating by two complete strangers, followed by the equally haunting process of being hazed by his pledge master and the older frat brothers. The film shines light on the reality of the violence of pledging and its psychological, physical, and sometimes even fatal effects of such a tradition.
The film is a series of uncomfortable scenes with barely any time to recover from the unfiltered brutality of the previous. Brad, played by Ben Schnetzer, suffers a debilitating assault very shortly into the movie, by two young white men who seem more crazed by the mere idea of hurting Brad more than stealing his car and his credit card. These two young assaulters are uncorrelated to Phi Sigma Mu, or to any form of Greek life. However, their violence and Brad’s lasting trauma from the incident set a point of comparison to the horrors the frat brothers commit to Brad and the pledging class during Hell Week. As Hell Week commences, it becomes impossible to distinguish the difference between the assaulters and the frat brothers: boundaries and moral compasses do not exist in either groups.
One starts to recognize the disturbing fact that these brothers, considered “typical” college kids, are equally as masochistic as the two criminals who rob and assault at random. It speaks to our culture’s false sense of masculinity and the acceptance (or disregard) of violence and violation that have been institutionalized. Hazing and Hell Week are exemplary of this institutionalization. The probable damage of hazing rituals are justified by the older frat brothers with the simple excuse that everything they are doing has been tradition for the last century, or since the initiation of Greek culture itself. The list of such “traditions” is endless: they lock a boy in a tiny dog cage, piss on his bare body, and keep him locked up till morning, or spray goat dump on the boys and throw fruits at their heads hard enough to cause a concussion. They resemble the degenerate teens of Clockwork Orange.
The teens of both Goat and Clockwork Orange are the exaggerated products of unrestrained freedom and a lack of guidance during a time of coming of age. Their relentless energy is released in harmful directions, resulting in highly inappropriate behaviors. Not once in the film do we see a single parental figure; even after Brad suffers a near death assault, his parents fail to make an appearance on screen, and this physical absence of parents seem to symbolize our younger generation’s general lack of moral guidance from adults. Instead, Brad constantly finds solace in his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas) who himself is only a couple years older. The other adults in the film are also evidently detached—the police officers seem indifferent towards Brad’s case despite its gravity, and the school officials only intervene at the closing of the film, merely as a response to the death of a student. It is not an authoritative figure but Brad’s older brother Brett, who starts to realize that his fraternity’s behavior derives not simply from the name of tradition, but from an aggression embedded elsewhere.
Opens September 23rd
Theatrically in Select Cities and on VOD