Sunday, January 25, 2015

From American Sniper to Corpse to Political Football

Perhaps, I’m too objective. That sounds utterly ridiculous, doesn’t it? However, I do believe a prerequisite before attacking anything or wading into powerfully emotional issues with nationalistic implications in such a polarized political atmosphere with divided government and an ever more crowded GOP field of Presidential hopefuls is to at least become informed. Therefore, I felt it necessary ahead of the predictable posturing by the far left and far right with the release of American Sniper on the big screen to actually see the movie.

After a week of digesting my experience of this movie about war, warriors and a clashing of civilizations, ideologies and religions, I am finally capable of formulating sentences again. 

My last line in this piece: “Let go of the posturing. Let go of this political football. Take care of our vets.” Just so you know there’s a point.

The bare bones of the movie: a rough talking Texan from an emasculating father figure self-destructs into early adulthood until the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa which becomes a motivator for his involvement in the American military complex. Chris Kyle, a childhood sharpshooter, finds his way into a team of snipers while his brother works his way into less glamorous military roles. After 9/11, as we all know, the U.S. embarks on two wars. Kyle marries and is shortly deployed to the first of four tours in Iraq. He becomes the top killing sniper in American history, a legend, as they refer to him often, a point of ego and personal endangerment in his future tours.

As the movie progresses, each successive tour sees Kyle devolve, his family life suffer and an ever deteriorating war strategy, stressed military personnel and decreasing morale and obvious signs of PTSD at home and in the field. The stress and tension is palpable, sustained and grating leading up to the most extreme sandstorm showdown climaxed with personal family crisis for Kyle and his wife as he becomes engulfed in bullets, sand and nearly succumbs to PTSD, insurgents and death.

Years after returning and helping other vets, Kyle and his family have recovered much of what they had lost. In a series of moving events of actual therapeutic moments for those who suffer from PTSD, we are left with a final scene with his family that feels contrived. He then walks out the door to a very shell-shocked looking vet, never to be seen again. He is shot and killed by a veteran he was helping, so the story is told. Then, the movie flashes real-life footage of the actual memorials to Kyle before the credits scroll in silence.

Clint Eastwood really was masterful in smashing through these successive war scenes in such a way that the pressure and stress mounts for the audience. Bradley Cooper’s physical prowess is obvious, but the real mastery was the layering of the subtle PTSD symptoms one after another after another. Having PTSD myself, I think it probably affected me much more than others. Cooper was amazing at not overacting. His eyes told and muscle rigidity scrolled volumes to me.

Okay . . . so, now the politics of this movie

I will say this, I think some of the criticism of Kyle and his book is probably warranted, but to say this movie connects 9/11 to the Iraq War is a real stretch. Certainly, the imagery of the Twin Towers is there, but that is part of the nation’s psyche leading up to the invasion of Iraq and was in the mind of many of those in the U.S. military. Also, movies based on real events and people are never 100% accurate portrayals of those events or people.

Many criticisms of Kyle exist. Here are just a couple from alternet and another from someone who says they actually saw the movie, even though I find that claim suspect.

The very issues these articles criticize about the movie’s portrayal of Kyle are actually positives changes to the narrative about the damaging nature of war. Also, the laundry list of personal failings of this veteran seems extensive, but I think it is crucial to remember that he had severe PTSD. Before simply attacking someone, I would suggest educating oneself on that condition as it is one of the most difficult conditions to treat and the symptoms can be exhibited in a myriad of ways.

Many criticisms of the movie also say that American Sniper glorifies war. This has to be one of the most ignorant false claims I could imagine making about the movie. If a person actually watches this and walks away thinking, “oh yeah, that’s a great idea, let’s do a war like Iraq again,” there’s something seriously mistaken at work.

Other critics have wanted the movie to have taken multiple tangents to weave the narratives they would have preferred to have seen on the screen. Wanting more Iraqi perspective, or more background on the insurgents, and to these people I suggest writing and producing their own movie

If anything, focusing the film on this specific sniper, the sniper who killed more, allegedly, than any other in American history, and showing the drastic, profound, negative impact of this war on him, his family, his friends, brings the glorifying nature of the Kyle legend into a much more realistic focus

Everyone can have their own opinions about anything. It would be so much better to have a more balanced opinion based on actually watching the film, not simply responding to the talking heads using this film for propaganda. The anti-war versus the neo-cons is a tired battle.  

I do find the far left reaction to this film appalling. Most of these groups and personalities are hypercritical without even ever seeing the film. Of course, the far right, pro-war propaganda machine wants to prop this corpse up against the far left to use as cover

Anyone who says this movie glorifies war either didn’t watch the movie or somehow has impairment to empathy.

Anyone who thinks this demonizes all Muslims didn’t watch the movie or somehow turned away to the absolute horrors that were shown done to Muslim families who tried to aid Kyle and U.S. troops.

There are few things that aggravate me more than people being just adamantly critical with no objective observational reason as to why. Making a dead man who certainly died as a result of gun violence the prop of two opposing factions is as disturbing as the brutality of the terrorists and insurgents depicted in American Sniper.

Let go of the posturing. Let go of this political football. Take care of our vets.


  1. Michael Moore came under a great deal of criticism for his tweet calling snipers cowards. This link is his full-throated response:

    Michael Moore does know how to cover his bases, and I appreciate his support for the troops. He doesn't hold back, he often creates controversy, but for some other purpose, perhaps to generate donations and press?

    The timing of his tweet could not have been coincidental for such an intelligent man that acknowledges showing the movie in his theaters.

    He is right about the movie . . . Every character in American Sniper comes out severely damaged. It's not some glorification of war film.

    All snipers are not brave. If your family was killed by some faceless person on the other side of a scope, you'd probably categorize that as cowardly.

    However, being in a war zone on purpose with the intent to save others is not the act of a coward.