Full disclosure before diving into this story of bluffs and double bluffs: Mark Pilkington is a friend of, and contributor to, Electric Sheep, as well as the publisher of our book. However, I don’t believe that friendship impairs critical faculties and this is as fair a review as any.
Think you know the truth about UFOs? Or the difference between truth and myth? Well, think again. In Mirage Men, the truth is not so much out there as a question of ‘perception management’, as one of the former special agents interviewed in this fascinating documentary puts it.
Directed by John Lundberg, Roland Denning and Kypros Kyprianou as a companion piece to Mark Pilkington’s book of the same title (who also co-produced the film), Mirage Men upends the usual conspiracy theories to show that, far from covering up the truth about the existence of extra-terrestrial UFOs, the American government has in fact actively manipulated beliefs about them to create a myth that would serve its counterintelligence objectives.
Talking to a colourful gallery of characters that includes two shady former special agents, UFO obsessives, a passionate investigative journalist, a CIA analyst, an aviation historian and a parapsychologist among others, the filmmakers allow them to air conflicting views, letting the audience make up their own mind about what to believe. Indeed, Mirage Men is less interested in resolving the UFOs question than in exploring ‘how we know what we know’, a much more complex and fundamental issue.
The tangled web of deception and self-deception that the film uncovers is dizzying. At its centre is former special agent Richard Doty, an unassuming man who looks more like an accountant than a spy, and yet has functioned as a ruthlessly efficient manipulator for years. With disarming apparent openness, he explains how he planted the seeds of the UFO myth in the mind of the tragic pilot Paul Bennewitz and other ‘useful idiots’, and yet declares later that he was shown classified documents that proved the existence of alien UFOs. As the former special agent puts it after a similar disclosure, ‘Now could this be part of disinformation? Absolutely.’ With such vertiginous manipulation of the facts, the American government has managed to muddy the waters irreversibly, and in so doing, forever sink in its dark currents potentially embarrassing revelations about exactly what caused unexplained phenomena such as the cattle mutilations, as the film shows.
A very cinematic documentary, Mirage Men unravels these myths and machinations through stunning images of the New Mexico desert juxtaposed with old film clips and infinite institutional corridors that evoke the endless ramifications of the story, or the neural paths of the brain that distinguish between fact and fiction. The subtle, haunting, eerie score by Cyclobe and Urthona evocatively supports the never-sensational, well-paced, soberly presented story. An intelligent and captivating exploration of how truth is created, Mirage Men is undoubtedly one of the must-see documentaries of the year.
Watch the trailer: