Hazing is a troubling practice within Frat Boy culture that has led to deaths and many critics’ question of fraternities very existence. One of the reasons I never pledged a sorority, despite having friends that became “sisters”, was because I am NOT going to eat my own vomit or swim across a freezing lake at night when no one can see me. Excuse me, as I hold onto my dignity over a potential friendship. Yet, Goat shows not only the dehumanizing, militaristic ways that college “fun houses” recruit their brethren. The film also shows why people subject themselves to being treated like “goats” just to have a friend.
There is no denying the perks of being a frat brother: parties, the appearance of coolness, and a network that could get you a nice job post-graduation. Yet, for more sensitive souls like Brad Land, (played excellently by Ben Schnetzer) Phi Sigma Mu offers the opportunity to be apart of something greater than himself and to feel included into mass society. From the beginning of the film, it is clear that Brad is a broken young man with a self-esteem that could be confused for trash and thrown in the garbage. He sees no good in himself, especially since, his random act of kindness leads to a traumatic assault at the hands of strangers. It is clear that Brad is seeing frat life as his big chance to feel big again! Director Andrew Neel and writer David Gordon do well to flesh out Brad’s self-loathing as a reason he is attracted to joining a fraternity, and why he tolerates the sexual, physical, mental, and emotional embarrassment that his hazing will entail just to say he is a “brother”. Still. the most fascinating character of the film, for me, was Nick Jonas’ Brett Land: an already Phi Sigma Mu brother and, literally, Brad’s older brother.
Although the film could have had more brotherly moments between Brad and Brett, it is clear that the two love each other. Thus, it is fascinating to watch Brett witness the hazing of his younger brother, and question his very role and reasoning to being in a fraternity. Nick Jonas as Brett is beyond wonderful. I am so impressed with him as an actor, particularly from his role on Kingdom and from a previous film of his I reviewed Careful What You Wish For. Jonas manages to add multiple layers to characters through subtle gestures and annotation in his phrasing. With just one wince of his eyes, Nick Jonas reveals the world of pain and disillusion that begins to takeover his character of Brett.
While his baby brother grows wearier with himself as a person, Brett’s disappointment with life carries a different sadness. He is the young, hot guy that everyone wants to be on campus and can have anything he wants without much trouble. Thus, his witnessing of his brother’s struggles is heartbreaking because he begins to realize, through his family, that not everyone is blessed with privilege, good looks, and popularity. Therefore, what happens to those like his brother, Brad, that are at the bottom of “totem pole” trying to socially rise up, when people like him were born already on top. As Brett starts to discover that there is not much to want from your society when everyone is acting so horribly, it is as if you are witnessing a man wake up from a long coma. Brett was asleep to society’s ills because, in part, they benefited him, but when Brad’s self-destruction from hazing grows dangerous, Brett must choose between his frat brothers or his blood brother.