Rites of passage in Goats

Goats (2012) is the film adaptation of Mark Jude Poirier’s debut novel. It’s a quirky coming of age tale that involves a 15-year old boy leaving home—although “home” for Ellis isn’t a safe and idyllic Shire, but a chaotic, dysfunctional family comprising his irresponsible and histrionic mother and his pot-loving mentor, Goat Man, who becomes a surrogate father figure to baby Ellis shortly after his biological father abandoned the family.

Within the first three minutes, the film quickly establishes its major themes: coming of age, rites of passage, leaving home, and renegotiating parent-child relationships.

See what you can make of it. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix.)

[Scene: Goat Man and Ellis go for a trek in the mountains of Arizona with two goats.]

Narration: Goat Man took me on my first trek when I was eleven. Not too long after that, he taught me how to do bong hits. It doesn’t matter where we go on these treks. We just wander. Goat Man says it’s the journey that counts…which I know is cliché. In a few days I leave for the prep school my father went to. Goat Man’s calling this my farewell trek. He says I should soak up as much of the Sonoran sun as I can, but he’s the one doing most of the soaking.

Goat Man: Whooo! [Jumps into water.] Whooooo! [Approaches Ellis.] You won’t have all this this at Gates Academy. [Lights up a joint.]

Ellis: Naked men shouldn’t squat. Do you ever worry about your parents? Did you ever?

G: No. Not really. Wendy will be fine. I’ll watch her.

[Goats bleet.]

Goat Man once said that in certain Native American tribes, an elder leads a young man out into the wilderness to fend for himself until he has a vision.

[Ellis milks goat milk into a cup.]

G: She never lets me milk her.

In one tribe if no vision comes they’ll chop off a fingertip and sacrifice it to the Great Spirit. Goat Man said I’m not quite ready for this rite of passage.

[Ellis finishes drinking milk and climbs piggyback onto Goat Man.]

E: Thanks. Sorry about the rest of the trek, Goat Man.

G: It’s not your fault. Should have never let you come out here with brand new boots. Should have oiled them and let you walk around in them for a couple of days before coming out here.

[End scene.]

Questions:

  1. Why is the film called Goats?
  2. Who are the goats and who is the goat herder?
  3. Describe the relationship Ellis has to the most important adults in his life: his mother, Goat Man, and his father.
  4. In what ways is Ellis already an adult?
  5. List the challenges that Ellis faces and how he overcomes them.
  6. Describe the transformation that Ellis undergoes in the film. What do you think motivated him to clean up his act?

Here is a hint for numbers 1 and 2: the film’s opening graphic.

Goats opening graphic

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