If Barry Sonnenfeld’s blockbuster Men in Black were to be retooled using John Lundberg’s new documentary Mirage Men as a blueprint, things might have turned out quite differently. Instead of a multi-million dollar sci-fi franchise, we might instead be presented with a 140 minute spy thriller in which agents J and K are not part of a secret program to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials, but instead part of an elaborate disinformation campaign, whose goal is to perpetuate and cultivate the UFO mythos. Their reasoning for such a thing? This is better left for you to decide, and Mirage Men provides a wonderful 85 minute forum for such a debate to take place.
Mirage Men’s story revolves heavily around the exploits of Richard Doty, a former special agent for the US Air Force who purportedly was part of a large-scale disinformation campaign in the 1980s. His knack for manipulation and dissemination of lies, is thought to be directly responsible for many of the persistent myths in today’s UFO pop culture, including the more famous Roswell and Serpo stories. Doty paints for us a seemingly exaggerated, film noirish version of reality, fraught with enough conspiracy and spy games to fill another 7 seasons of X-Files. Lundberg’s film, based off of the Mark Pilkington novel of the same name, attempts to put these claims under the microscope. It asks it’s viewers to decide for themselves if they believe Doty was indeed just a masterful spinster, cultivating fantastic stories to keep eyes off of new US aviation technology, or if perhaps maybe Doty’s real motivation was to make the existence of extraterrestrials findings to seem so ludicrous, that the public wouldn’t believe the truth were it to be thrust under their noses.
At times, the film’s interviewees seem more like caricatures than real people. There’s Doty, whom liable fancies himself as a suave Robert Redford type, but really just reminds me of some low rent horror movie villain. There’s Bob Durant, one of the film’s more compelling narrators, whose voice has the soothing quality of an FDR fireside chat. And then there’s Richard Dollen, a UFO historian whose tendency to dress like an Agent Mulder fanboy, seems to immediately dispel any credence his words may actually hold. At first, this gang of characters may seem like stand-ins for the cast of Ancient Aliens, but unlike the subjects of such self-proclaimed “science” programs, Lundberg’s interviewees have a strange quality that we don’t see that often in popular media. They admit the possibility that everything they think, and everything they believe could just be an elaborate web of BS, something that makes it harder to just dismiss them as your run of the mill wackos.
With Mirage Men, Lundberg found himself faced with the daunting task of making a film that could both appeal to both the unabashed believer, and the ever so scrupulous critic. Mirage Men is a film that will no doubt induce waves of eye-rolling on both sides of the spectrum, but hopefully it will also plant the seeds of one of the most critical questions one can ask about their own belief system, “What if I’m wrong?”.
Mirage Men had it’s US premiere at this years 2013 Fantastic Fest, and was also an official selection of the 2013 Sheffield Doc. Fest. You can check out the film’s trailer below!