Well, it’s a new year. Welcome to 2015. This is the year we were supposed to have flying cars and hover boards. Color me disappointed.
However, what 2015 HAS given us is a voice. I say this because I just saw American Sniper yesterday. I’m not going to get into Chris Kyle as a man. I never had the privilege of knowing him. I have a few friends that operated with him, and had nothing but great things to say about him. I’m not going to sit and bitch about any Hollywood inconstancies that arise when flash and pomp take precedence over authenticity.
I am, however, going to talk about the precedence this film set for veterans and the direction I’m hoping the population of this country will take.
American Sniper, though being marketed as a hero movie, goes far beyond that. It isn’t an action movie. Yes, there IS action in the film; but it’s not the sole focus. I can see a lot of people leaving the movie disappointed because there wasn’t as much running and gunning as in say, Act of Valor or Lone Survivor.
What the movie accomplishes, for me and for US is that it finally depicts WHY coming home is the hardest part for most of us. So many movies in Hollywood either touch briefly on the subject, but miss the mark. The Hurt Locker, love it or hate it, has a very poignant scene in the grocery store where Renner’s character has returned from a tour in Iraq and life seems mundane and boring compared to the excitement and rush of defusing bombs. The premise is botched in that, most veteran’s aren’t missing the experience because they’re bored and need an adrenaline rush; they miss their brothers and that bond that frankly WILL NEVER be experienced here at home. THAT is the drug for which most of us are fiending.
The flipside is the movie Brothers. The movie portrays Tobey Maguire’s character, a TBI inflicted Iraq war veteran, as a time bomb full of rage and insecurities. He lashes our violently against his brother, who didn’t serve and his wife who developed feelings for his brother. The movie rubbed me the wrong way in that, yeah the guy got pissed, but not all of us pull a gun out and start getting all stupid with it. The end of the movie was very condescending, I felt. It said to me, “be careful around these crazy dudes, they’ll lose their minds over perception.” All it did was reaffirm the stigma that we as a community are trying to distance ourselves from.
American Sniper portrayed Chris Kyle as a guy trying to do the best he could in shitty situations. Doing what he had to in order to protect American lives. It highlighted perfectly that coming home is almost impossible. There’s always an urge to go back and keep working. Not for fortune or glory, but for each other. The way I always thought was, “if I don’t go, who will?” I couldn’t bear the thought of some 18-19 year old kid taking my perceived place in the long line of casualties. American Sniper showed the anguish at the bureaucracy of the Iraq war and the tough decisions that had to be made and later scrutinized by someone at home on the couch. He even said, “we’re at war, and I’m going to the mall.” It accurately shows the disillusionment of returning to a country that isn’t engaged in any capacity with what’s going on with their troops. It captures the essence of what it’s like to come home and try to assimilate into a society that is oblivious.
It’s most powerful statement was that it clearly shows the absolutely bitter loneliness a vet can experience coming home. I don’t mean loneliness as is synonymous with solitude. Kyle was surrounded by family and loved ones. He had reasons to celebrate his life, his wife, and his babies. Yet, he still felt a void. He had the support structure of a family that needed him, yet he couldn’t relish in the love they gave. He could not sit back and enjoy being home, due to the longing for his brothers and a crippling grief for the men he could not keep from harm. These feelings, as I type them, could seem so trivial to a civilian reading this. “Guilt” and “loneliness” are emotions people go thru daily, yet no one is making a movie about them. That is the separation in our generation, even our emotions, though labeled the same, are so very different from the average straight. I’m sure there are Doctors that grieve over losing a patient, however, that patient probably wasn’t their best friend. I’m sure people experience loneliness because they’re by themselves a lot, but true loneliness comes from being surrounded by your loved ones and still feeling alone. This is the strength of the movie and what lends itself to us as veterans and our struggle to find our place in the world. This resonates with us, and hopefully opens the eyes of the general public as to what we feel every day.
That’s the first direction I’m hoping the country will go. It’s sad that I live in a country where the only way to truly reach the members of society isn’t through literature or research, but with pop culture. But, them’s the breaks. The optimist in me says that people will have at the very least, a better insight into WHY we feel the way we do. It’s not always nightmares and outrage, sometimes, most of the time, it’s a silent suffering. It doesn’t stem from a need for adrenaline, or bloodlust. It stems from a desire for a purpose that is bigger than ourselves; Our yearning to be around people we would literally die for, no questions asked; and a regretful grief for living when others whom we deem more worthy, died. We analyze and dissect every decision and action we made, wondering if we could have made a difference. Not a difference in foreign policy or winning a war single-handedly, but the difference between you coming home to an empty barracks room or your buddy coming home to his wife and kids.
The pessimist in me is starting to notice the seeds of a trend being sown. It’s that bashing our military, or at the very least, being anti-military, is going to become “cool” again. I’m not going to comment on Rogen or Moore’s idiotic comments about American Sniper. I was once a Rogen fan and always thought he was more discerning than most in Hollywood, and Moore is irrelevant now, both as a film maker and a human being. Bush isn’t in office, therefore he lacks a villain at which to point fat, sausage-esque finger. The reviews are all over the place and a striking majority are calling the film pro-war and anti-Muslim…
However, I read a piece by Amanda Taub (just google it if you care to) in which she bashes the film and accuses it of “rewriting American history.” Her point of contention was that the film was too black and white for her tastes. She calls the war in Iraq a grey area, which I agree. I also agree with her disdain at the treatment of the conventional troops in the film as cannon fodder or inferior to the SEALS in importance. However, she smashes on Eastwood’s flick by calling into question the lack of mention of G.W. Bush, WMD, or Saddam Hussein. She accuses the movie of inventing fictional characters for Kyle to fight. I’m taking this as she is mad the movie didn’t take a political stance or mention any of the media hype, hot buttons, or buzzwords normally associated with the war in Iraq.
My answer to that: Yeah, no shit.
The film wasn’t about any of that because for US, the war wasn’t about any of that. Do you think any of us gave a fuck about Saddam Hussein, WMD, Bush, Cheney, or any of that shit that was being ejaculated by the news? The film wasn’t about grey areas, because to us it didn’t matter. All that mattered to us was the guy to our left, and the guy to our right…and especially the guy that still had a can of Skoal. It wasn’t that we were willfully ignorant of the issues surrounding the Iraq, or that we were in denial, but when your finger is on a trigger, when you’re face is covered in your friends’ brain matter, you aren’t thinking about “good and evil” or “grey areas.” That is the entire point this civil rights attorney misses, the film was about a man on the ground and the struggle to come home with a head full of grief and regret, not the Iraq war itself.
The movie didn’t really take a political stance at all. Yes, it mentioned 9/11, but it didn’t tie it to Iraq. It tied it to Kyle the way it was tied to all of us. 9/11 signaled to a generation that we are not safe, that there ARE people out there that want to kill us, on our own soil. Yet, here is the left, all up in arms about a movie about one man’s struggle in a war. They create paper tigers to go after in order to blackball these movies into oblivion. They refuse to see the good in this film as it pertains to veterans, because they don’t care about veterans.
I fear the plaid shirt, hash-tagging, trust-fund protestors are going to start coming out of the woodwork. The people who have kept their mouths shut because the war was still ongoing, are going to come forward and start openly bashing on us. The war is “officially” over and as a country, we are no longer engaged in combating terrorism with any sort of genuine commitment. That allows the dissenters to come out of their holes now that it’s less likely someone is going to say “dude, my brother/husband/dad is over there right now.” Because, at the end of the day, they still don’t want to offend the “victims” of veteran’s decisions, only the vets themselves.
To the people that saw the movie for what it was, it was a glimpse into our world. It offered up our collective hearts to you in a manner a typical, movie-going civilian would understand. That is powerful, and hopefully opens a broader dialogue about our struggle to really come home. This is what we’re thinking and why we’re still fighting. As far as our silent war goes, this movie got it right.
To those that saw it as more “pro Bush/Iraq/Right Wing/anti-Muslim” political statement and wants to bash it and our military, I say this:
The movie wasn’t for you. It was for the guy with mud on his boots and a hole in his heart, and for the families that are left to pick up the pieces. Go back to your latte.