Part 5/5 – Review of American Sniper by Clint Eastwood
I am a very fortunate man–more than fortunate. Though I can’t assess that it is random luck. I attempt to live honestly and not just honestly, but nobly. And the historical record proves that that behavior tends to be noticed and supported. I wouldn’t change anything about how I live. Until today.
I’d like to point out that I think I told at least one reader that I didn’t want to watch this movie. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t like how I felt after watching The Hurt Locker. I didn’t want to watch it because I knew he was going to open the door to the adjoining hotel room in Flight. I didn’t want to watch it because I have known for a long time that like Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle while he talks to his wife on the phone from the bar in America rather than in person upon arrival back in the US because he “needed a minute”, that like Kyle, when I got back I needed a minute. Unlike Kyle, I have never admitted it. Well, today I’m admitting it. I needed a minute. More than a minute, I needed a week it seems, and honestly, I guess I needed nearly eight years.
I don’t know if I experienced enough trauma to conclude that I have PTSD. And frankly, I don’t see how applying the word disorder to myself could be viewed as anything other than immature white whine. Also, I’m not sure what practical steps follow such an admission. But that’s just me.
I do know that I drink too much. I also know that “too much” sounds less harsh than to say I have a problem with alcohol, so let me try again. I have a problem with alcohol. I know because of how I defend my drinking habit if it’s called into question. I know because any story/movie that remotely comes close to pointing out how alcohol destroys some people makes me think I should probably cut back. I know because I feel like a liar that is about to get caught. I feel like this for too much of too many days as I press on in my new life and start to meet both ugly and beautiful smiling people that I do want to spend time with.
I know because when I saw Eastwood’s lazy film American Sniper I knew exactly how I would have made it better and in doing so made it speak to me. And if I know how to make a movie about coming-to-Jesus moments speak to me more clearly, it’s because I know I needed to be spoken to.
So I’m done drinking. And as I am forging ahead in my new life as a writer, it seemed appropriate to announce my decision via the blog. More because of the cold H- transferred to me than anything else, I haven’t had a drink since the uninspiring visit to the empty dance floor two weeks ago, and so I’m calling that the day I stopped. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do about this practically, but I am pretty sure the first step in problem solving is to recognize the problem. Done. I guess that leads me to a second mention of step two for the week: gather the data. Sounds fun.
In the end, I guess I need to thank Mr. Eastwood’s lazy-good-for-nothing-too-old-and-too-tired-to-make-a-good-movie guiding hand for pushing me to my breaking point. He’s just the best, no?
This isn’t going to be talked about much on here after today, but I mention it here because at the end of the day, the inescapable truth is a blog is for its writer, just like this commitment is for me.
Have a great weekend.
Part 4/5 – Review of American Sniper by Clint Eastwood
But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
I don’t think I have PTSD. I just don’t. I didn’t see any crazy shit. I didn’t really hear any crazy shit. I just woke up, briefed, flew, debriefed, and went back to sleep. Honestly, that was it. Don’t ever go thinking you’re reading the words of a man who was in the mix. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any threat of danger, but no, I didn’t do or see anything that qualifies as traumatic.
But say after learning the ins-and-outs of what I did in Iraq you’ve convinced me otherwise. Say you brought in some nerdy looking dude with pleated khaki’s and unbreakable eye-contact. Say he pointed out that my life has kinda turned into a wreck since deploying. Say he pointed out that since leaving the military three years ago I have had and quit five jobs (I have a hard time dealing with what I perceive as disrespect), got divorced (totally unrelated to anything), am currently unemployed (though wrote and self-published a book and am half-way through my third and am not in debt, mom) and probably drink more than I should or, hell, just more than I ever did before deploying (but have only ever really regretted one decision I made while drinking). Say that he’s broken me down and we’re getting misty-eyed together. I’ll tell you what will dry my eyes real quick. Putting beautiful smiling people at the end of the tunnel. If all he can tell me is that by the time I find myself outside of the tunnel, by the time I have removed my hand from between the bright light and my now-adjusted eyes, if all he can tell me is that all along it was beautiful smiling people that make up the light, then I’ll open the door and kindly show him the way out. If there are any people who I’m confident do not have a clue about happiness, it’s beautiful smiling people.
You know what I want at the end of the tunnel? I want people to stop believing that anything on a screen–whether a laptop, a phone, a tablet, a movie screen, or the goddamn television set–has any value whatsoever in aiding veterans with PTSD. Want to know what does have value? Humans. Those real, fleshy people who have all the opportunity in the world to make every other decision than offer their help. Men like Diarmuid, Robert, and Ron. Real people who took real chances on a veteran, a veteran who doesn’t have PTSD.
Tomorrow – Or do I?
Part 3/5 – Review of American Sniper by Clint Eastwood
The movie ends with what appears to be the real footage of Chris Kyle’s funeral procession. Hundreds, if not thousands of well-wishers lined the highways. American flags almost outnumbered people, and a few cranes were even used to hang an enormous flag high against the skyline. I’d be lying if I said I cried because honestly, while I remember crying during the movie, I can’t remember if I cried at that specific moment. What I do know is that I was very, very sad–no different from you I’d guess.
But now it’s Wednesday and the immediate effects have worn off. So how do I feel about that funeral procession now, today? A little anecdote is necessary to explain it.
Judging by the fact that the show was cancelled after a single season, I’m pretty sure no one will remember an HBO show called John From Cincinnati. It came out after Deadwood ended and it had the same writer. Well I thought the show was just fantastic. One thing I learned from it was how to feel about the familiar, black POW/MIA flag. Up until that tv series I never wanted to look at the flag or think about it or even acknowledge its existence. I had no context for it. For whatever reason, I felt that I should be sad when I thought on it and its meaning, but I honestly didn’t feel sad or really anything when I saw it. And that embarrassed me. But then in that goofy little show there was a character who was a Vietnam veteran who showed me the way. The dude was pissed. Anger was his idea of the proper emotion to associate with the POW/MIA flag. The gist of his sentiment and why he proudly sported the flag was, “Our motherfucking government took these boys outta their home and lost them. That’s not right and needs to be fixed.”
With that in mind, how do I feel now about the procession, now after the emotions that the film stirred have calmed? I feel like only I understand what all those well-wishers wanted to communicate that day. I feel like no one else gets it. I feel like everyone who has seen Sniper and loves it, all they saw was some level of patriotism and/or patriotic support. But I know the truth. The truth that I know is that all those people who took time out of their day to line the highways did so because they wanted to communicate a solidarity that it wasn’t right for the government to put a man through what Kyle went through. Why would his leadership do that to him? Did they think it was fun? Did they like that their ‘boy’ was racking up their numbers? Did they want to be able to have a bullet on their performance report that said “rubbed shoulders with most lethal sniper in US military history?” Why would they keep sending him in? If there is one fact that I am certain of, and that I would like to believe people who are leaders are certain of, it’s that motivated individuals will drive themselves into the ground if left to their own devices. I learned this about myself through the most embarrassing experience of my life. Only a handful of people even know this prior to now. Want to know how lost I became as my wife and I sat alone in our town home for nearly three weeks after my first deployment, me being either drunk or hungover for the duration? I arrived at a place where I heard a nice sounding legal assistant on the other end of a phone hurriedly whisper, “You can’t ask that. You can’t ask what the punishment will be for going AWOL if you haven’t left.” A lifetime of leadership and decision making training was being put to use to gather all the data (step 2) so I could make an informed decision that going to prison would be better than going back.
I ramble a bit here to illustrate that while I was sad as I watched that scene of the movie Saturday night, today when I think about that scene I am angry.
Thursday – But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
Friday – Or do I?
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?
Part 1/5 – Review of American Sniper by Clint Eastwood
Reactions to recent posts have had an unintended consequence of making me believe you wouldn’t mind reading more about my military related struggles with the hopes of understanding your less talkative family members’ own strife (using the timely film American Sniper as a vessel). I am flattered and have decided to accept the charge. As you’ll see, though, while I began doing it with you in mind, I gained a clarity relevant to my own life. I saw how this challenge will help me. So that’s why I’m really doing it. But I believe that help is help is help, and that means if it helps me, it might help someone else. So here we go. Together.
Today I’ll set the stage with my criteria for the film review. Throughout the rest of the week we’ll get into the nitty gritty.
A magazine writing course taught the importance of asking yourself what your article, your story, is about about. Lucky for you and I, I recently came across a movie review that put that concept a bit more clearly. “It’s not what [the story’s] about. It’s how it’s about it.”
American Sniper is about PTSD. There should be no argument there. How does Eastwood go about PTSD? Lazily. Embarrassingly so. (Want a movie that doesn’t go about PTSD lazily? Check out David Ayer’s Harsh Times.)
Sniper’s story is fairly straightforward. There’s this tragedy that is inconceivable. Top US sniper Chris Kyle who only recently is beginning to overcome PTSD’s effects is killed by a veteran he was helping to overcome PTSD. Though you don’t find this out until just before the credits roll.
Surprise endings don’t do it for me. They never have. Consequently, I don’t mind spoiling this movie because the issue–PTSD–far outweighs any entertainment value that the surprise ending provides. Let’s be honest, movies don’t change the world anyhow. Stories do. And for me, if a story relies on a surprise ending for strength, besides being lazy, its power is diminished upon each subsequent telling. This thinking inevitably leads to: any story that loses power with each telling isn’t worth telling in the first place. (Test the Greatest Story if you don’t like my thinking.) But again, it’s not Sniper’s story that is lazy (powerless), it’s Eastwood’s telling of it–how he went about it.
Maybe I’ve just seen more movies than most folks, but I was bored during the first half of the film. For most of it really. Not because I’ve been there or done that. But because every other recent contemporary war movie has been there or done that, and in most cases done it better. Two examples stand out prominently. The Hurt Locker for juxtaposition of home life vs. deployed life (ref cereal debate) and Zero Dark Thirty for realism (ref “Usama…Usama” whisper). As moviegoers, we’re not in a vacuum. Eastwood should’ve known better. He had a story that is so inherently powerful there was no reason to tell it in such a way that places it alongside those two films in my mind. Yet there it sits. Rather than do the story right, he (lazily) chose to compete and he loses. Like my brother often says, “It would have been a good movie…if every other movie hadn’t already come out.” In my words, American Sniper is a lazy telling of a story whose intended audience deserves better.
Outline For The Week:
Tuesday – Was it relevant that he had more confirmed kills than any other sniper?
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?
Why Write Simon?
Why? Why write a book about divorce and doom and base it in contemporary America? I’ll tell you why. Because tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. More specifically, because I was about to go watch H- sing her heart out in some holiday concert. And her mother and her live-in boyfriend were going to be there. I was angry. I was afraid. I was afraid I would do or say something that I would regret. I could picture it. I could picture me yelling or even shoving and I could see the other parent’s reactions. I could see the circle of flesh forming and feel a hand on my shoulder asking me to calm down. I have never been in a fight but I was actually getting nervous that that night would break that streak. I didn’t know what it would be over. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that when the dust settled, the dust in my vision, I saw H- standing there looking at me. She was crying. Her left heel was tapping the ground rapidly.
Spiderman’s uncle reminds Peter that “with great power comes great responsibility.” So while I write and write and hope and hope, when I saw H-‘s face, I realized that I needed to quit effin’ around and write something valuable, write something that I would be really proud of. Not necessarily valuable to you, but valuable to me. And my ex. And hopefully to my daughter some day. The book is essentially an apology, maybe a reckoning.
Along the road to divorce and since then I heard many people express they were in the same boat that I was. They weren’t writers though. I believe I am a writer. So I wrote.
Reviews from friends, family, and strangers agree. It is dark. It is embarrassing. It is depressing. But the real truth is that it is full of hope. You just have to look for it.
Anyhow. Not a single new sale since last week. But I have four more days to give it away over the next 70 or so and create some momentum as the theory goes. So today it is free again on the kindle. If you like to read, read it and enjoy!
Have I told you much about Greeny? The following paints as accurate a picture of this war hero as any, I suppose.
Taking off his skis Saturday afternoon, he stops and says, “I just learned something about myself. See that woman over there? I watched her come down the mountain on tele’s and thought, ‘You know. I could marry her.'”
“Wow, man. Pretty deep,” my brother and I’s wide-eyed response.
“No, you don’t understand. You know what my girlfriend said to me the other day? She said, ‘It’s cold out here.’ I couldn’t believe it. It was like 60 degrees. I told her, ‘You can say, ‘I’m cold.’ But you can’t say ‘It’s cold.’ You can’t say it because it is not true.”
He always has been a stickler for the truth.
What I really want to share though is what happened at the club Saturday night. The seven of us in the bachelor party play pool for a few hours until most are losing interest and ready to head back to the condo. I convince Greeny to hang out a bit longer, because, well, we’re good friends and you never know when some new war will break out etc, etc. It was about midnight, and we had had enough to drink that I finally suggest we tempt fate on the dance floor where there are probably eight ladies and only one dude. (Focus on the decent odds, not the lame club.)
The entire floor cleared when we walked onto it.
I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt my body move more from laughter fits than any attempt to bust a move. Greeny was more still. He gets this look. The wheels are clearly turning behind his thousand yard stare, but from experience I assure you not necessarily very fast. He scans the room one last time and then reports, “Pete. If you and I are in any other country in the world and walk onto a dance floor, the women would leave their seats to join us. Here, they return to them.”
Now, ladies, I know what you’re thinking.
Wait. No, no I don’t. Never have. Same for Greeny.
Some of you know I started a side-project blog with a singular goal. It didn’t pan out. I’m shutting it down today. I wasn’t going to mention it here again, but the experience really helped me in a specific way. The life lesson was kind of a nice end-cap to the year while the bigger paradigm shift is less than a month away. And, as usual, I think by sharing my experience others might be able to learn from it too. Backstory in a nutshell is I hear about a female blogger here in Denver that dates a lot and never pays for the dinners. I tell her I’d like to date her, but we have to split the tabs. She balks. I create a blog to woo her. She still balks. I contemplate everything for quite a while until it happens–growth.
A couple of things. First, I took a personality test once that revealed my personality falls under the larger category of “Guardian”. Ooo. Makes sense, what with serving in the Air Force and all. Second, I love The Matrix trilogy. Do you remember the second one? The scene with the architect and the word ergo? Neo has to choose between saving his one true love, Trinity, or the whole of Zion. It’s a bigger philosophical point, of course. Most of the time, in my life, I choose to defend Zion, the group. But defend is what I do in any case. Ergo, while I found your voice and personality on the radio that morning many weeks ago very appealing and believed this may mean you would like to play, I have since concluded that my intentions with creating this blog and writing you have not been pure.
You sound sharp. You write well. But I’ve realized that this whole thing (split tab condition/blog) was about defending men. It took many of my closest friends and family members telling me that I’m wasting my time to finally come to this conclusion. However, I should’ve known this just from the fact that I told many people that I thought what you were doing–getting so many free dinners–was criminal. And if in my little brain you’re the criminal, then it naturally follows that I think the men are the ones under attack and in need of protection. Rather than just say this outright (defend), I created a blog and attempted to stir your emotions (offend). That was wrong.
C-, I do think what you’re doing is hurtful. Date away, I say. Find your white knight. But don’t hurt the guys. You’re better than that. In any case, it seems an apology is in order. Here goes:
C-, on behalf of all men, I’d like to apologize for my actions. Your dating life is your dating life. I shouldn’t have treated it like a game. You’re a real woman, not a voice, not a picture. “Life is immense” (Legend of 1900). I hope you achieve the happiness that your writing indicates you desire.
PS – I’m not ducking you. You know where to find me.
Enough About Change, Enough!
Daily, so-called experts advise us to change our perspective, change our job, change our life. They believe we should change our world. It’s sickening. Like you, I’ve followed that message too many times to count and for what? It is a false hope. Change? No thank you.
As the year wraps up I’m happy to report I like life the way it is. And I know you do too. Here’s how I know.
Forgiveness – You forgive me daily. I struggle with why, but am sure you’re the better person for it. It is at once free and invaluable.
Friendship – Again, you give it freely. I cannot imagine a world without the ability to make friends. I don’t want to either.
Peace – The world is close. Real close. Some want to keep the focus on the unrest. The rest of us know to keep peace the focus, and rightly so. Focus on the peace and see what unfolds, I say.
Compassion – Everyone I have ever met understands compassion. While not always possible to act on, their feelings of compassion are always real. I cannot imagine this world before it was filled with compassion. Like most good things, once conceived, the concept of compassion cannot be forgotten. And it never will be.
Love – There is no greater source of strength than the fact that the lowest of the low, the meanest of the mean, I’m talking about the most wretched wretch, this man or woman is still loved by at least one person if they’ll only let themselves feel it.
Change that? Never.
Teaser for Pete Deakon’s New Book: The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor
You know how movie teasers and trailers are fun in and of themselves? Well, here’s the teaser for my new book. Enjoy!
A black screen disappears in favor of a silent scene of a bloodied, weeping man trying desperately to beat down an apartment door; inside the apartment is a slouching drunk wearing a look of frightening resignation and throwing his nearly empty tumbler at that door; curious music now accompanies the camera as it closes in on the drunkard’s painful expression of doom. As if a film projected onto his eyes we see video of a beautiful woman leaning in expectantly towards that same man, though younger and full of life. His eyes dissolve out of the background and we now see the man jealous of the woman as she dances the night away with others; then an engagement; then the music quickens to frantic as the pace of the montage of already short video clips speeds up until they are not much more than still images in which we see yelling, fighting, painful looks, divorce papers, fear, and hurt.
Then the screen returns to silent black and the text “The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor” appears. As it fades away the text “Coming Soon” takes its place almost in a whisper.