‘Goat’ milks the savage nature of fraternity hazing

Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas in 'Goat'
Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas in ‘Goat’

“The brotherhood of man is the only fraternity that’s proud to rush anyone, but most never get past the hazing stage.” – Bauvard

“You’ll be subjected to hazing all your life.” – Martin Luther

Based on the 2004 novel of the same name, Goat is an examination of brutality and violence; and how young men handle being victims of them.  Be warned that the depictions of such things in this movie can be difficult to watch.

“Brad” (based on Brad Land, author of Goat and played brilliantly by Ben Schnetzer) is at a party when he is convinced to offer two men a ride.  He believes them to be friends of the party’s host.  They are not and after he drives to a remote location, they beat him mercilessly before stealing his car and ATM card.  The experience has him considering not heading off to college in the fall where he would be joining “Brett” (Nick Jonas); his older brother.  Brett eventually convinces Brad to change his mind and soon Brad is pledging Phi Sigma Mu, the fraternity he is a member of.

Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas in ‘Goat’

As attractive as the period where the young men are “rushing” fraternities seems, with parties, drinking, drugs and hot women, the reality of PSM’s Hell Week is ugly.  Everything is designed to test the limits of the pledges.  In one particularly telling scene one of the pledges is forced into a small cage where he is subjected to something truly humiliating.  The cage is symbolic of the self-imposed imprisonment that hazing represents.

Portending the future for some of the pledges is an appearance by former member “Mitch” (James Franco).  In a moment reminiscent of Rob Lowe’s return visit to his character’s fraternity in 1986’s St. Elmo’s Fire, Mitch is the frat boy who never fully graduated into adulthood.

The pledges survive Hell Week but not long after, “Will” (Danny Flaherty) drops dead while running laps on the college’s track.  This triggers an investigation into the fraternity and someone gives up the details of what’s been going on inside the PSM house to the university’s provost.  As a result the frat is suspended for the rest of the school year and their leader “Will” (Gus Halpern) is convinced it was Brad that ratted them out.

James Franco in ‘Goat’

Despite being dark and difficult to stomach at moments, Goat is a movie that grabs the viewer.  If this is what real-life fraternity pledges have to deal with, one has to wonder if the life-long connections that being a member of a frat brings are worth what it takes to get there.  In some ways the hazing seemed similar to that the trainees go through during a different kind of Hell Week in 1992’s The Finest Hour and 1997’s G.I. Jane.  Both are depictions of BUD/s which is the military acronym for Navy SEAL training.  The difference between the two Hell Weeks is that there is a purpose to putting SEAL trainees through a week where they are allowed to sleep four hours during a 5.5 day period.  It is designed to ensure they have the physical AND mental toughness to become SEALs before the Navy invests a great deal of time and money in their training.  The Hell Week that the PSM pledges had to go through may have had a rationalized purpose in the minds of those who are doing the hazing, but it is obvious that one of the main purposes is for the puerile pleasure of those torturing the pledges.

Ben Schetzer and Nick Jonas are both up to the task of playing the brothers who are the focus of the film.  James Franco’s cameo alone is worth the price of admission.

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