All "Anti-War" Movies are Actually "Pro-War" Despite Their Intent
Some quick thoughts.
Kyle is embodied by actor Bradley Cooper. He is Chris Kyle. He is not a cheap pantomime or parlor trick biographical actor: Cooper has earned his 2014 Oscar nomination for best actor.
While I admire Bradley Cooper's performance, American Sniper is a functional film that in many ways is fundamentally dishonest about politics, war, Kyle's life, and the Iraq misadventure that ruined the bodies and souls of thousands of American soldiers, and many millions of innocent Iraqis.
The movie American Sniper reinforces my thoughts from 2 years ago about Chris Kyle, his book, and feting by Bill O'Reilly and Fox News:
Chris Kyle was feted by Bill O'Reilly last week: his deeds were recounted, and killing admired by the Fox News faithful. There is an odd homoeroticism (or is it homosocial worship?) in this interview, where O'Reilly as an archconservative is channeling a deep fascination with the "how" of death, and a type of hyper-masculinity that is the bleeding heart of Right-wing authoritarianism. Here, O'Reilly reminds the viewer of why straight men enjoy watching the freakishly large penises that dominate much of American pornography. Hero worship, with no small amount of projection, is, and remains, the thing--it is the means for a visceral thrill...
This is not a claim that elite soldiers such as the Navy Seals, the unit which Chris Kyle was a member of, are "crazy," sociopaths, or are especially prone to violence outside of a combat situation. It is however, an acknowledgement that there are bad and dangerous men who are born that way. The training sharpens the edge.
The son of a Sunday-school teacher and a church deacon, Kyle credits a higher authority for his longest kill.
From 2,100 yards away from a village just outside of Sadr City in 2008, he spied a man aiming a rocket launcher at an Army convoy and squeezed off one shot from his .338 Lapua Magnum rifle. Dead. From more than a mile away.
“God blew that bullet and hit him,” he said.
For Kyle, the enemy is a “savage” — there’s no room for gray, only black or white.
America is a militiarized society. Warfare and martial culture are at the heart of the country's economy and entertainment. Militarism is also central to America's political culture as well. For example, onservatives such as Gingrich, Romney, Bush, Santorum, Perry, and others play the tough guy as chicken hawks who swagger in a phallocentric game and performance which titillates their populist base, even as the irony that all either avoided military service (or exaggerated their responsibilities) remains uncommented upon.
Film theorists have incisively argued that there is no such thing as an "anti-war" movie because all movies about armed conflict are channels for a mediated reality. As such, they distort the horrors of battle, and the basic fact that war-fighting is a life and death matter, one that cannot be accurately communicated by the visual and aural codes or symbols and grammar of film. Consequently, even "anti-war" films like Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, and Full Metal Jacket are actually endorsements of the violence and human ruin they purport to condemn.
The ideology of the film American Sniper is presented through a narrative that lacks a substantive critical engagement with the causal forces that sent Chris Kyle to war--and where his skills as a sniper were refined and honored by the military.
History is flat--the teleology of the Iraq War is presented through the myopic lens of American Exceptionalism and the epistemically closed Right-wing media--in American Sniper. And of course, the Iraqis in the movie are cartoon villains and victims.
For American Sniper, the Iraq War began because of Iraq's (non) involvement with the terrorist attacks on September 11th. The lie of the premise is never engaged or exposed except in fleeting scenes of soldiers, they who are now tired from war, dead, limbs amputated, their eyes weary as they write regretful letters that are read at funerals, or when Kyle's brother hints at how he is a broken man, one who is unable to equal his brother's martial prowess, and sentenced to existential malaise and unavoidable doom by service as an anonymous grunt.
In those scenes "war is hell". However, there is no further move to put that truism in context: the Iraq War(s) is in fact a type of hell, one based on an evil set of lies knowingly sold to the American people by the second Bush Administration.
Ultimately, the movie American Sniper is a hagiography that pretends to be an anti-hagiography. My muddied language is an intentional choice that signals to the clumsy slight of hand of an ideologically duplicitous film-making exercise.
Chris Kyle is made a hero in a quasi anti-war film by virtue of his confusion and vulnerability, need to reconnect with his family, and the healing he offered to his fellow veterans stateside. The audience is cheated of the moral and human consequences of war in the film's conclusion, where even the best of efforts for broken warriors to heal one another can result in death.
Kyle's murder by a fellow veteran, one more broken than he, is only alluded to by an epilogue. We do not see Kyle's death. Instead, nationalism and the "sacrifice" of America's "selfless" warriors is reified by the tired civil religion routine that is waving American flags, cops and firefighters, and a funeral montage featuring obligatory military regalia and Kyle's brother SEALs.
A "great warrior" laid out in a random killing on a gun range is too much truth about the futility of war for American Sniper--a major Hollywood film that seeks to resuscitate the memory of the Iraq War and its soldiers--to entertain an audience that is comprised of those folks who desire Bradley Cooper the heart throb, and the others who want to see a lethal killer ply his craft on human Arab Iraqi targets in a movie that is a 2 hour plus advertisement for the Navy SEALS and the U.S. military.
Chris Kyle did not need to be a twenty-first century Agamemnon in the movie American Sniper. But the Christian fundamentalist Crusader-sniper who borrowed the insignia of the Marvel comic book anti-hero The Punisher as his own, had no regrets about all of his killing, exaggerated and lied about his exploits, and exhibited signs of psychopathy, is a much more compelling subject for a movie than the person artfully depicted by Bradly Cooper.
If cinema is a lie, American Sniper is one of the most recent and greatest examples of said reality.