Part 2/5 – Review of American Sniper by Clint Eastwood

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?

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4 comments

  1. renofailure

    The worst thing for me about this movie, if it is about PTSD, is that it perpetuated the misconception that PTSD is a military problem only. I know first hand you don’t have to be a brave member of the armed services to suffer from it. By portraying the life of the top sniper and his struggle with it, it seems to imply that you have to have done something heroic for having PTSD to be acceptable. But all that really has to happen is for the person to experience extreme trauma. It makes those of us non-military PTSD sufferers feel almost guilty for sharing this disorder with them. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. noelleg44

    You are right that in general average Americans never related to the T until it became a D. I’m glad they did because the stigma of the T is less, and people do want to help our vets who are troubled. I never really understood it until my son told me about what happened to him tracking insurgents into Pakistan and, because he was the best shot in his group, acted as a sniper and had to kill an attacker. Even though I feel I have some insight now, I am still hesitant to see this movie. I really appreciate your POV and this discussion.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. gene

    Again, I liked the movie. I like war movies, but even deeper, I did personally relate to some of it. I agree that a person doesn’t have to be in the military to experience PTSD. My personal experience involved dealing with brutal deaths that led to smuggling five cremated bodies out of a foreign country to avoid corrupt government officials. It took me eight years to admit I needed help. I related to the way Brad Cooper transitioned from the carefree never say die cowboy to the broken man. I understood his desire to continue his own healing by coming along side of those who struggled just as he did.
    For me, his record number of kills had nothing to do with his struggle, he could have simply witnessed a single kill, the thing is he suffered from his experience, as do many, many others in and out of the military. I appreciated what I thought was an honest portrayal of what a person usually suffers through on their own. But I also liked the movie — I like war movies!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pete Deakon

      Gene,

      Can I just say thank you for sharing? I hope anyone reading can see that while it may seem that we’re at odds, we’re not. Cut from the same cloth as they say. All I can say is keep reading. I promise I won’t disappoint. Unlike Eastwood. ha (sorry, had to.)

      Pete

      Liked by 2 people

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