The new film Goat, based on Brad Land’s 2004 memoir about pledging Clemson University’s Kappa Sigma fraternity in the late 1990s, offers an unflinching view of Greek life. Land said the film adaptation, directed by Andrew Neel and starring Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer, was so accurate it brought back painful memories.
“The hazing stuff was really right, and the conflicted nature of wanting to belong and struggling with what it means to be a man,” Land tells Men’s Journal.
Brutally mugged over the summer, Brad (Schnetzer) enrolls in school still reeling from the event. He never expected to rush a fraternity but is drawn to Kappa Sigma, where his brother Brett (Jonas) is already a member. To join, Brad must endure a brutal pledge period, as his brother Brett watches.
In the movie and the book, the pledges, known as goats, are forced to behave like farm animals, beat each other up, and drink until they pass out. One scene shows pledges transported offsite and told to finish a keg or have sex with a goat.
“If anyone says that that stuff doesn’t exist, they are woefully misinformed. This exists like air exists,” Land says. “I have personally been in the back of a covered jeep with my head between my legs riding beside two other people and being yelled at from the front seat and being taken out to this wooded area, and I was definitely told I was going to fuck a goat.”
The film also includes Land’s account of a classmate who died during pledge period under suspicious circumstances.
“It was a ridiculously awful tragedy at a really bad time,” Land says. “He was a good, sweet man, and it sucks that he was taken away really early, and died in even more of a sad, lonely way than is in the film.”
In the film, the story comes to a neat climax, but in real life, the Land brothers quietly left Clemson, and moved back to their hometown.
“It was like, 'This place sucks, lets get the fuck out of here,' ” Land says. “I don’t want to give the impression I was at some grand exit. I was sad and school ended and we left.”
The brothers enrolled in a local college, lived with their parents, and focused on going to school. Brad Land is now a full-time writer, and Brett Land is pursuing his doctorate in religious studies.
Both brothers still follow the news of fraternities behaving badly, specifically the 2014 death of Tucker Hipps, which a recent lawsuit alleges happened during a pledge mission.
“When I heard about that I was so sad,” Land says. “We don’t want to look at the really scary thing right beside us because it is too damn hard. It is pretty hard to be a warrior for social justice, and that is why I’m not. But I definitely feel strongly about suffering that should end.”
Goat opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday September 23, and digitally on demand.