Berlinale: Goat

Directed by Andrew Neel
Starring Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Danny Flaherty, Gus Halper and James Franco

by Joanna Orland

Ben Schnetzer is an actor that comes around only once in a generation.  A chameleon in every one of his film roles and an actor that can extract empathy from his audience with seemingly little effort.  He is the greatest actor you’ve never heard of, with the potential to become either an iconic character actor or a huge star.  His performance in Goat suggests he’s striving for the latter.

Goat is an examination of the violent and abusive hazing rituals found in many American fraternities, with Brad Land (Schnetzer) at the centre of the story.  Nineteen-year-old Brad finds himself the victim of a brutal attack, and after taking the summer to heal from his physical wounds, he finds his emotional ones aren’t as easily mended.  Come autumn, his brother Brett (Jonas) encourages Brad to enroll in university and pledge to join fraternity Phi Sigma Mu which Brett is already a member of.  Through the hazing rituals the fraternity make their new pledges endure, Brad once again finds himself encountering physical and psychological violence which mirrors not only his previous attack, but also the wider problem of American violence from within the country itself to its notorious crimes of Guantanamo Bay.

Director Andrew Neel’s film is a shocking exploration of the roots of violence in white male America.  It’s hard not to think about how these men later in life become soldiers, CEOs, politicians, and even husbands and fathers.  The cycle of violence seems unbreakable as this tradition is passed down from generation to generation of fraternity pledges – not just in this movie, but in real American campuses as depicted in author Brad Land’s book Goat: A Memoir, the story on which this film is based.

The imagery in this film is disturbing, but the reality of the situation even more so.  America will not be able to become a less violent country until the cycle stops, and a good first port of call is to ban and criminalize hazing rituals and violence in universities.  If Ben Schnetzer’s heartrending performance doesn’t help America to wake up, I worry to think how far things will have to go until they do.


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