You’ve probably got an opinion on this, whether you’ve seen it or not.
Nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, American Sniper is a Clint Eastwood directed, unapologetic tribute to the heroism of war.
It tells the (true) story of Chris Kyle, a sniper who, with 160 confirmed kills, is generally considered to be the deadliest marksman in US history. It has also been heavily criticised for being an ironically short sighted examination of masculinity, patriotism and modern warfare.
It stars a bulked up, monosyllabic Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, the terrorist riddled, gun battle pock marked streets of Iraq and a shit load of dust.
An award magnet, if you like.
I didn’t watch it so I could add my infuriated wail to the chorus of protest, although given the eagerness with which I usually wade into such topics, you might be forgiven for thinking I’m fibbing to get you to read my thoughts in full.
I purposely watched it, because, as a liberal minded person, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent terrorist atrocities in France. Freedom of expression is not a straightforward issue and tolerance is not just something that can and should be demanded to causes I happen to sympathise with.
I will never, ever, agree with some people on some issues. Does that mean they’re going to bugger off, leaving me in the inclusive, friendly and egalitarian world I fantasise about? Are they hell as like. They’re going to carry on being homophobic, racist, ignorant, abusive and cruel.
I’m not interested in patriotism. I think it used to serve a function, but those times are past and its proponents strike me as fearful of change, clinging onto an anachronistic, narrow minded way of life.
If I don’t look, does that not make me essentially the same as them?
So I watched it. And I was surprised. Remember, this isn’t some liberal appropriation of patriotism created by a director in order to expose it for what it is. American Sniper is directed by the poster boy for American machismo, Clint Eastwood. We have to assume that what he wanted to say about heroism, patriotism and masculinity is what we see unfold.
With that in mind, I’m not angry, just disappointed. Living under the auspices of the God, Country, Family banner appears to be a miserable, painful existence, with brief moments of good cheer feigned for the neighbours.
The boys are brought up hard, the belt buckle ever hovering over their scarred backsides, emotional ‘weakness’, or indeed emotions full stop are trained out of them early through hunting, fighting and relentless reiteration of the righteous.
They go to war ostensibly to serve their country, but really to exercise their masculinity, which has effectively rendered them dysfunctional in the civilised world. Only when they reach the mythical, dreamed of stage in their theatre of war, they’re forced to make ethical decisions which reveal the softer, human core they’ve spent they’re whole lives suppressing.
The women? They’re left alone to bring up the kids, resenting their partner’s absence and the fact that when they’re back they’re not who they were when they left.
The kids? As we’re shown on more than one occasion, they’re simply the next cycle.
I’m not naive. I don’t like the fact that armies are necessary, essential even, for the protection of people and land from enemies who cannot or will not resolve conflict through arbitration, but I accept and understand how we’ve got to this point in our evolution.
I also understand, in my new found super liberalism, that certain people, whether through nature or nurture, require the kind of stimulation that can only be achieved by blowing shit up in extremely high risk situations. It’s (at least in part), why our streets look like warzones on Saturday nights.
But why can’t we at least be honest about it all? Why do we have to pretend to grit out teeth and pretend everything’s fine when we all know that war is terrible, men are emotional beings too and it’s a perfectly ‘normal’ human response to suffer mental health problems after being exposed to the horrors of conflict.
Maybe there wouldn’t be so many conflicts, whether global or domestic if we learned to accept ourselves as flawed rather than pretending to be fine all the time.
It’s killing us all.