I saw “American Sniper” last night and thought it was a good, post-modern war movie. It had all the tropes a war movie needs: hero, battles, two dimensional enemies, sacrifice, tender moments, and triumphant resolution. But it also, if you can see them, presents the moments of doubt, pathos, and dehumanizing that my left wing compatriots are so up in arms about it lacking. The Chris Kyle I saw was a simple, straight forward cowboy who wanted to serve his country, and did so doing what he did best- shooting long distances. I saw a decent man, deadened inside by the arcade-like quality of his work, whose manly facade would not admit doubt – his or those of his wife and (a few) fellow soldiers.
We see what we want to see. Think of Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.” Today, we find it chilling and discuss the fascist film techniques that make it so. But Germans of the day probably found it uplifting and beautiful. And, significantly, if the film had been about the US, our immediate ancestors would generally have had the same reaction. The movie “Mash” was a bold middle finger to the establishment when it came out. I watched it recently and was appalled by the blatant sexism. The movie didn’t change; I did.
I was not a particular fan of Pablo Picasso’s work until I saw a series of photographs of him working on “Guernica.” What is fascinating about his work is his process. How he got from, say, the five naked women sitting in front of him (reality) to the image he abandoned on the canvas, “le demoiselles d’avignon” (art). His genius was to break away from the necessity of depicting reality ( which art can never do, anyway) and explore form and color. Fascinating.
So, “American Sniper.”
Clint Eastwood knows how to construct a good movie, And this one is good on it’s own terms. It’s even good for someone who believes Iraq was a mistake and that war has consequences for the survivors. If you’re old-school “my country, right or wrong,” you can love this movie and Chris Kyle’s life on those terms. If you’re a post-colonial American, Eastwood has touched on those hesitancies, which I understand were not in the book.
You see the movie, or the painting you want to see.
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