American Sniper is a nation building piece of propaganda that gives no identity to the Iraqis and has all eyes on a not very well-rounded or even convincing drawn American soldier. This goes without saying. Eastwood has neither the directorial dexterity nor the depth to create convincing complex narratives. Similarly, he does not have enough emotional range to draw a convincingly complex character. Everything I have to say takes the film’s all-too-obvious conservatism as a given. Put another way, what I say about American Sniper should not be read as applause for the film.
If its dodgy politics are obvious, what is less clear to me is whether American Sniper consciously creates potholes that open up to thought provoking arguments, or whether the spaces come as a result of the film’s internal inconsistencies and negligence. Whether consciously or unconsciously, somewhere in its confusion over what it is doing, as a narrative, or perhaps in its attempts to be liberal, American Sniper created the conceptual space for me to reflect on the conviction of America’s involvement in Iraq. I left the theater incredulous about the complete and utter waste of the lives of a whole generation of American men. Whether they come back from war physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically traumatized, or all of the above, these men are maimed for life. It’s not simply that the processes of recovery and integration are not supported in the US. American Sniper reminded me of the inanity of war, and the tragedy of this war in particular.
As the rifles are fired and the bugles sound to mark the military death at the end of the film, I assume I was meant to be moved to allegiance to the flag that covered the coffin. However, instead, I was struck by what makes the war in Iraq worse than that in Vietnam, if that could possibly be. Namely, the propaganda fed the young men, a barely disguised brainwashing, to enlist. American Sniper explains Chris Kyle’s fanaticism on a crazy family that raises him to believe in the difference between foxes, sheep and sheep dogs. Kyle is trained by the family to be the dog who compulsively looks out for the sheep. But we all know that his fanaticism is implanted in him by the United States Army. I have heard other soldiers utter the exact language and lines spoken by Kyle in his zeal to realize the imperative to save America from its enemy. Kyle is indoctrinated to fight the US war in Iraq, for Nation, God and Family, “in that order” as he reminds his wife.
But the most egregious thing about the film is the fact that a whole generation of American men have basically given their lives to the unworked through psychological immaturity of another American: George W Bush. The reason they all ended up there is because young Bush decided he needed to impress his father of his power as a president. George Bush never understood the real weight of power: he didn’t understand that power at its most forceful is having the ability to manipulate and destroy other people’s lives but choosing not to. Instead, he took America to war and effectively killed a generation of American men.
While I am over the moon that American Sniper came nowhere near any Academy Awards—as if this speaks some kind of affirmation of its faults—the question which any thinking viewer of American Sniper will come away asking is: how is this brainwashing, for the appeasement of a single man’s desperate attempt to prove to daddy that he is worth something in this world, different from the culture of the terrorist enemies that are being struck dead all over the West? While it probably tries to represent a very different story, watching American Sniper what I saw was a film about the equation between the war in Iraq and the Islamic fundamentalist retaliation. This won’t be news to anyone, but it might be news to Clint Eastwood.