It’s no secret that we love people that are the best at something. We also respect military members tremendously, rightly so. So, as movie watchers, when we see that someone has made a movie about a military member who is the best at his craft, it is difficult to not be interested. (Anyone remember Top Gun?) My question is: Was Chris Kyle’s status as most lethal sniper in US military history relevant to the story Eastwood tells in American Sniper?
The story, remember, is about PTSD. Part of the reason I am taking an entire week to review this film is because some subject matter only ever has one reason to be put into a story. PTSD is one such topic. A movie about PTSD is made for only one reason. It is not made to enjoy watching, though if done well it might be enjoyable. It is not made to give non-veterans a glimpse of what veterans may or may not be going through after they return from deployed locations and/or combat, though if done well it might, in fact, provide a glimpse that they might not have otherwise gotten regarding why a loved one’s behaviors might be different than before. The reason someone tells a story about PTSD, especially in 2015 America, is because they want to help the surely tremendous number of military men and women who suffer, alone and quietly, as a result of their voluntary service.
So was his status relevant to the PTSD-centered story? The answer is yes and no.
Yes, I could admit that it was relevant if Eastwood’s angle was to show that “Look even the top sniper admitted he had PTSD and was able to find some peace after admitting it.” Yes, if Eastwood wanted to show that therefore there is hope for all because Kyle was able to begin to recover from it, then I can see his intentions were pure and he just didn’t manifest them very well.
But no, his status as top sniper was not relevant if he wanted to tell a story that would really help veterans. And here’s why. PTSD has a negative stigma. Hell, the word disorder is the D. Nobody wants to admit they have a disorder. What knucklehead academic even thought they were doing a good thing by terming a difficulty acquired from attempting to do good in the world a disorder? And of course everyone knows that the men and women who are actually around killing and death have experienced trauma (the T). But there are only a select few military members who are actually pulling triggers and having to duck on a regular basis. What about everyone else? What if they still experienced something that is causing their transition back to civilian life to be difficult? How anxious will they be to come forward when some Navy SEALs still might not be ready to admit they are having a hard time after they come home? How about pilots of the new remotely controlled aircraft that are pulling the trigger from half-way around the world and only seeing a black and white television image of a body going limp? Do you think they, when they think long and hard on it, actually believe they have anything in common with the macho dudes kicking in doors? Do you think they want to raise their hand when help is offered?
Here’s the truth that veterans don’t think to share with the world. We learn first-hand that every military member is capable of amazing feats. We know this because as we signed up we stereotyped and guessed who would do what when. But during our time in service someone proved our infinite wisdom wrong. Moreover, plenty of people never get the opportunity to demonstrate/discover what they hoped combat/service-before-self would teach them about themselves. By way of example, Chuck Yeager became an ace combat pilot in one day at age twenty-one. I didn’t even go to Iraq until I was twenty-five. And no enemy aircraft ever approached the slow helicopter I flew. Suffice it to say, I never did get my five aerial victories. (But I did log more combat NVG time than Yeager, which I am sure he loses sleep over.)
I have to believe that Chris Kyle admitted to someone at some time that he was just doing his job and while the status his circumstances bestowed up him was neat, he wouldn’t have cared if his tally put him last on some list. And I’ll even go one level further. If he really did care about helping vets like the story goes, (which I fully believe), I bet he’d trade every confirmed kill to help just one veteran.
In the end, we’re talking about telling a story to an audience who is short on hope. Seeing a finally smiling Bradley Cooper give a ride to the man who kills him, another afflicted veteran, just doesn’t turn the light on for me.
Wednesday – Never mind how I felt while I watched the funeral procession, how do I feel now?
Thursday – But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
Friday – Or do I?