Friday night at the chick flick

I usually watch movies alone. I like to go, and we have a very nice old theater here in town, but my wife isn’t really into them. There’s usually a conversation something like this at my house on the weekend…

“Would you like to go to the movie tonight?”

“No, thanks.”

I get shot down more often in my requests for dates now than I ever did in high school. It’s OK, though, it’s usually because the movie playing isn’t to her taste, and I can respect that. It has to be some kind of chick flick to get her interested.

My definition of a “chick flick” is a simple one: it’s a movie I have zero or negative interest in seeing, but that a woman in my life really wants to see. The chick flickiest (Chickiest flick? Chickiest flickiest?) movie I’ve ever seen was Gibson’s Passion of the Christ — you can imagine how disinterested I was in that horror fest, but we had an Italian foreign exchange student living with us, and she very much wanted to see it. Not because of the “Christ”, but because it was filmed in her home town, so it was a way to ease her homesickness. It was actually kind of surreal: there’d be ol’ Jesus, getting flogged and the blood is flying, and she’d excitedly point out that that was her grandmother’s house in the background.

Anyway, for the last few months, my weekend invitation has gone sort of like this:

“Would you like to go to the movie tonight?”

“Is American Sniper playing yet?”

“No, it’s…”

“No, thanks.”

That’s also been a bit surreal. I had no interest in seeing a movie glorifying war, and my impression was that it was one of those jingoistic bloody-minded Republican propaganda films. After all, the right wingers freaked out when it didn’t win any big Academy Awards. When you see stuff like this from its fans you definitely get an impression of the content of the movie.

But wait! Don’t think that my wife shares any of those sentiments! There’s a different reason she was interested.


Her father was a real “American sniper”. He served in the Marines in WWII, and that was his role in the Pacific campaign — he was in many of the major island invasions, right there on the front line. There’s even a book (not a very good book, but very detailed) about his unit, Iwo; Assault on Hell (Marine Paratroopers Book 4), and I tell you, it’s weird reading about this vicious bloody battle with people getting blown up and shot, and there suddenly is your father-in-law’s name, and he’s engaged in all these desperate hard-fought deeds. I’d like to say I must be very brave, because I openly courted that bad-ass’s daughter, but I’d be lying.

The strange thing is that all of the veterans I’ve known — my grandfather, my father-in-law, various uncles — did not gloat about war, ever. My father-in-law didn’t have an ounce of brag in him, and would never have tried to threaten or intimidate anyone. Actually, he’d only reluctantly talk about his experiences in the war, and they’d be more likely to make him teary-eyed and sorrowful than blustery. He had a closet full of medals, and what he’d talk about instead of glory was how his friends died.

So it was a bit strange going to American Sniper. I expected it to glorify the real Chris Kyle, who was something of a braggart and a liar, in a movie that would pander to the bloodlust of right-wing fanatics. I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s an anti-war movie.

The movie Chris Kyle has all of the nastiness of the real Chris Kyle sanded off. The movie Chris Kyle reminded me of my father-in-law — regretful, doing what he had to do to help his fellow soldiers, fully aware of what a horror war was, and going into the breach again and again out of duty. The movie Chris Kyle was broken by his experiences, and there are moments when you see that clearly. He’s met by a hero-worshipping veteran, and the movie Kyle can’t meet his eyes, shuffles, and tersely mumbles a few platitudes before escaping. His wife begs him, “I need you to be human again,” and all he’s got is that thousand-yard stare.

The message is that war changes you for the worse. War accomplishes nothing; Kyle goes back and back to serve four tours in Iraq, and every time it’s a bloody dusty hell, with terrified soldiers and even more terrified civilians and horrible chaotic firefights. His friends die or are dreadfully maimed. There is no happy outcome.

I’m still surprised after seeing it that there are people who also saw it and think it is some kind of triumphal “America, Fuck Yeah!” movie. Did they also watch Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and think those were celebratory?

I don’t think American Sniper was as good as his two Iwo Jima movies, though. I think it was a flaw to frame Kyle’s four tours of duty as a quest to hunt down a single sniper, “Moustafa”. I thought it was implausible, and added an easily mistaken sense of completion to his mission — one of his friends even says, “Mission accomplished” to him, and given audience responses, I think it’s clear that few got the irony. The war wasn’t going to end by shooting one guy.

The ending was also a little too pat. Chris Kyle refocused his life on his family, and becomes human again, briefly. Just like that. All his complexities and contradictions were neatly smoothed over and the repercussions of the war vanished, except for the final tragedy that just abruptly happens.

So not a great movie, but an okay one, and definitely not one that mindlessly panders to the kind of right-wing perspective that now thinks it was a movie about shooting “towel-heads”. It’s not a liberal movie either, but actually has a more thoughtful conservative position than we see represented in the Republican party nowadays.


  1. equisetum says

    I’m still surprised after seeing it that there are people who also saw it and think it is some kind of triumphal “America, Fuck Yeah!” movie.

    That really doesn’t surprise me, given the number of people I’ve known that think Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A is a pro USA song.

  2. tbtabby says

    The Republican response to American Sniper once again proves Francois Truffaut was right. You can’t make an anti-war movie without glorifying war in some way. This movie joins the ranks of other anti-war movie that only seemed to make audiences more gung-ho, such as Apocalypse Now, Jarhead and Saving Private Ryan.

  3. blf says

    i usually watch movies alone.

    Poopyhead scares movie-goers away!
    MORRIS. In a shocking development, an notorious atheist who ate a scared cracker and silenced the town’s musical chimes is forcing the local movie theater out of business. “Professor” Meyers frequents the theater, scaring away all the other customers. The theater is not selling enough tickets to stay in business.

    “If he isn’t stopped,” said the theater’s owner, projectionist, popcorn vendor, and toilet cleaner, “we’ll have to shutdown. We haven’t made any money all week. The decent folks of Morris come here wanting to see the best in last year’s movies, and the first thing notice is him. Understandably, they then go elsewhere.”

    “It was horrible,” said a person running away from the theater who asked not to be named. “I just wanted to see this week’s movie, relax a little, but he had to be there! My night is ruined, ruined. I’ll pray for him.”

    Poopyhead, as he likes to be known as, was not available for comment.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    “little pink houses” isn’t [spoiler!] all about how awesome the american dream is. But that’s how it is received, too. Too often it’s all:

    Woohoo! We’re living it, baby! Pink houses with an interstate in the front yard! America, Fuck Yeah!

  5. James says

    The chick flickiest (Chickiest flick? Chickiest flickiest?) movie I’ve ever seen was Gibson’s Passion of the Christ — you can imagine how disinterested I was in that horror fest,
    I think you meant uninterested, not disinterested.

  6. microraptor says

    After watching Clint lose a debate with an empty chair, I can’t stand to watch his old movies, much less his new stuff.

  7. Paul K says

    My problem with the movie, which I have not seen, is that it’s based on the real Chris Kyle. I’ve read excerpts of his book, but just the fact that he wrote such a book, with the sub-title The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, is enough to disgust me. He lies in the book, not to make himself seem more decent, but to come across as even more of a badass. (I’ve read that he lied about shooting people from a rooftop after Katrina. I hope it is actually a lie, but making up such a story says a lot about who this guy was.) Families of the people he killed, and then boasted about killing in a book, now also have a movie to remind them of it.

    I’ve read other reviews saying that it’s an anti-war movie, but as PZ says, and others here expand on, that doesn’t stop folks from seeing what they want in it. But this movie is worse than others in that regard because of the book and the actual man who wrote it. Eastwood changed the character so much that it would have been possible to have gone further and made it entirely fictional. That he didn’t makes it easy to associate the real man and his words and deeds with the film.

  8. David Marjanović says

    After watching Clint lose a debate with an empty chair

    He later said the Republicans have only themselves to blame for that: they should have known what they’d get when they invited him.

  9. says

    War accomplishes nothing

    One amazing thing to realize about war, which will forever change how you see it: usually it doesn’t change much.

    With the exception of genocidal wars, a lot of wars are fought and then things more or less go back to the way they were 100 years before. Maybe a line on a map moves, new monuments are built, some short-term political trend is re-channelled, but that’s about it. At the level of personal lives it can be a triumph for a few, an opportunity for a few more, and a catastrophe for many, but that’s about it. It’s like some great potlach cooked up by a few people to show their personal power. Unlike a potlach it’s just a disgusting waste and not even a good party.

  10. says

    Many people seem to see “American Sniper” as a statement about America’s values and courage. Which, in a nutshell, tells you why most of the rest of the world thinks Americans are horrible scary people.

  11. unclefrogy says

    what a great description war is a potlatch with the main difference that much more is destroyed than given away.
    I suspect that much of the motivations for WWII would have never existed if the Marshall Plan had been instituted before the war and not after. Probably have prevented the Fascist for coming to power. We are never likely to instigate any such plan in the future before we have an other disastrous war it just does not have the same emotional appeal war has.
    uncle frogy

  12. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    The odd thing about conservatives, or at least the more hawkish ones, glomming onto American Sniper is that Chris Kyle’s story is hardly something to celebrate. Despite the movie implying his enlistment was initially a patriotic response to the 1998 US embassy bombings, he repeatedly said that it was to protect the Marines his SEAL unit was attached to. But the person who killed him was a Marine Iraq War veteran, and this is a rather troubling, self-destructive revelation to all the “protect our freedoms” rhetoric used to support our various wars of choice and constant military action.

    If the deadliest American sniper, a decorated Navy SEAL who deployed to Iraq four times, is ultimately killed by a PTSD-suffering veteran, what does that say about how much we actually care about the people who do the dirty work of our foreign policy and how much our “Thanks for your service/Support the troops” slogans really mean? The cynic in me would agree with Noam Chomsky, who has said that such slogans are really about supporting policy, not the troops. But it’s way easier to get people to cheer military members, as opposed to arcane treaties and doctrines that have virtually nothing to do with freedom and democracy, but rather ensuring American power over as much of the planet as possible.

    Flags of Our Fathers deals with this issue of suffering veterans as well; of the six flag raisers on Iwo Jima, three would not survive the battle, which had weeks more to go after the photograph. Another survivor, Ira Hayes, would only live into his early thirties, after constant struggles with alcoholism and PTSD. The other two, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley (father of the author of Flags of Our Fathers) were hardly enthusiastic about the event and subsequent publicity, considering the carnage of the war itself.

    Personally I didn’t like American Sniper, especially considering that Eastwood can make something like Letters from Iwo Jima, which I thought was a rather moving account of that battle, and probably one of the most mature and nuanced WWII movies I have ever seen. No lazy jingoism or racism (or at least any positive portrayals), or even that “Greatest Generation” nonsense, but a measured story that actually humanizes the Japanese.

    But (spoiler alert) Sniper‘s ending with real footage of Kyle’s hearse being driven past crowds was still immensely sad; a man who, whatever you think of him, won’t get to continue his life with his family; something the Iraq War had already been starting to do, and has been done to a far greater extent with Iraqi people. I would hope that the chicken hawks and warmongers who see American Sniper might consider for at least a moment that their imagined justification for sending people off on endless misadventures to expand the empire isn’t worth a damn to those who actually have to live with the consequences.

  13. johnmarley says

    OT, ignore as necessary.

    @ James (#5):
    Yes, “uninterested” is the strictly-grammatically-correct word to use. That being said, language evolves, and “disinterested” is replacing “uninterested” in common usage. Still, I reserve the right to fly into a rage at people who say “irregardless”.

  14. mnb0 says

    “I expected it to glorify the real Chris Kyle”
    Then you obviously don’t know Eastwood’s filmography. Since the Dollar trilogy he has made a career out of presenting the downsides of violence. With Dirty Harry 40 years ago exactly the same happened: all liberals complained about the violence, overlooking the fact that it also shows the price the main character Harry Callahan has to pay for his views.
    In a way American Sniper is a remake of Dirty Harry. It’s clearly inferior though for several reasons.

    “It’s an anti-war movie”
    No, it’s not, just like Diry Harry wasn’t anti-violence movie either. Both movies present violence as a necessary evil, sometimes unavoidable if you don’t want even worse things happening. The key scenes are Kyle having to decide to kill off the kid or not. These scenes are excellent, as they show that there is no right decision.

    “The message is that war changes you for the worse.”
    Yup. The other message is that we sometimes must be willing to pay that price. I’m not sure I agree here, but I recognize the dilemma. The third message is that we should respect those people who are ready to pay that price and this is Eastwood’s strongest point. Throughout his entire career, beginning with Dirty Harry.

  15. twas brillig (stevem) says

    re “mission accomplished”
    I’m sure the response was from remembering the ultimately ironic photo of W with that banner hoisted on the Carrier (he flew onto); when it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
    This is one movie I refuse to see. Even IF, Clint’s motive was to display awful behavior as a counterexample of proper behavior, I don’t need to see it to know it is awful behavior and attitudes. I was immensely glad that it was mostly shunned from receiving any of the awards it was nominated for. Regardless of recommendation, I will flatly refuse to see it.

  16. microraptor says

    If Dirty Harry was an anti-violence movie, how come it (and its sequels) spend so much time glorifying Harry’s cowboy-cop behavior? Yeah, he’s got a lousy social life, but it’s hard to see it as saying anything other than how awesome it was that Harry went around violating proper police procedure and beating the shit out of suspects without a warrant.

  17. says

    You are right about veterans not wanting to talk about war. My father served in the Royal Australian Air Force in WW2. Based in Northern Australia and New Guinea. At his first posting 80% of his squadron were killed and probably the only reason he wasn’t was they ran out of serviceable planes to fly. During that time his squadron was awarded the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation. Only two of these have been awarded to Australian units. His was the first but regulations prevented its award until 1990. He rarely talked about his experiences and usually only mentioned the “good” times. He spent most of his life struggling with those memories and it was only well after he retired that he talked about the unpleasant side of things. I am from the generation that lived through the obscenity of the Vietnam War. It was during one of those discussions that he mentioned that every time news reports of the war came on TV he walked out of the room because he hated what he was seeing. He was based at an airfield just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. He told one story of coming back from leave in Darwin. He had been delayed by a Japanese air raid that also hit his base. When he returned he found a 500 pound bomb crater where his bed was and the padre writing a condolence letter to his mother. His mother had given him a St Christopher medal that his uncle had worn through his service in WW1. At that point he tore it off and threw it into the jungle. for him God was missing in action. Yesterday I watched a US military documentary made in WW2 about the US invasion of the island of New Britain north of New Guinea. For a propaganda film it was not to bad. It didn’t gloss over the ugliness or sanitize the toll of American lives. The one jarring note though was that the closing music was “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It seems that the Crusades were still being fought back then.

  18. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    The chick flickiest (Chickiest flick? Chickiest flickiest?) movie I’ve ever seen was Gibson’s Passion of the Christ — you can imagine how disinterested I was in that horror fest, ”
    I think you meant uninterested, not disinterested.

    Toddle off.

    Still, I reserve the right to fly into a rage at people who say “irregardless”.

    “Irregardless,” unlike “disinterested,” is actually confusing on a naive reading.

  19. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I suspect that much of the motivations for WWII would have never existed if the Marshall Plan had been instituted before the war and not after. Probably have prevented the Fascist for coming to power.

    Hell, if the resolution of World War I were based on Wilson’s vision rather than the British and French’s grudges…

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    tbtabby @2:

    You can’t make an anti-war movie without glorifying war in some way.

    I thought Paths of Glory and Johnny Got His Gun managed to avoid the glorification quite well.

  21. Igneous Rick says

    I’d rewatched Inglourious Basterds earlier today. For the first time, I also watched the film-within-a-film Stolz der Nation as a separate piece. Watching it by itself I couldn’t help but be on team sniper. But within the context of Inglourious Basterds you don’t so much see the sniper’s exploits, but rather Hitler and Goebbels’ reactions to it. Context changes everything. Perhaps because you know a former sniper personally–a person that you (presumably) respect–you saw some of your father-in-law in the portrayal. You saw a person who happens to be a sniper. Those in the ‘Merica, hells yeah! crowd saw an action hero killing the enemies of freedom.

  22. kc9oq says

    In December 1943 US troops engaged the German army at the Battle of San Pietro in Italy. John Huston and his crew was attached to one of the units in this battle (an early example of embedded filmmakers) and he made a film of the engagement. This film is part of the National Register and I believe can be downloaded from the Internet Archive

    The war department was looking for some propaganda film to be shown at home as a morale booster. Huston’s film was so unflinchingly realistic (including shots of dead GIs being loaded into body bags) that the war dept officials refused to release it; however it was used as a training film.

    Huston was accused of making an anti-war film, to which he responded if he ever made a pro-war film he hoped someone would take him out back and shoot him.

    My wife’s uncle Marshall served in Italy during WWII. I happen to have a copy of Huston’s film and I offered to show it to Marshall. He never spoke about his WWII experiences to us.

    It turned out that Huston’s film featured Marshall’s unit, although he didn’t appear in the film as he was evacuated out as a casualty about 2 weeks before the battle. Nonetheless, after watching the film he began to open up about his experiences and he began to wear his Army cap when he ventured out and about, often receiving thanks for his service.

  23. says

    Microraptor @18, I think Dirty Harry — and the rest of Eastwood’s oeuvre — is slightly more complicated than a simple violence/anti-violence message. In DH, Harry Callahan does torture a suspect in order to locate the kidnapping victim. But, it is almost immediately revealed that his decision to go beyond the bounds of (pre-9/11) morality for whatever reason was pointless, as the victim was already dead. At the end of the movie, after Harry’s righteous slaying of the kidnapper, his throwing away of his badge could be read as his being fully aware that he’s gone too far, and electing to get out of the business altogether.

    Of course, that reading is spoiled a bit by the fact of the sequels, but even there, in the first sequel, Magnum Force, Callahan is put up against an antagonist who is even worse: a police gang who are killing random criminals who aren’t even threatening lives, so they don’t even have Harry’s excuse of immediate danger as a figleaf. In fact, their rhetoric — delivered by a quite Aryan David Soul — makes it clear that they have a fascistic contempt for ordinary citizens who don’t conform to an ideal.

    [Spoilers ahead] The latest movie by Eastwood I’ve seen was Gran Turino a couple of months ago. In that one, Eastwood plays an aged veteran who is put up against a local street gang terrorising his neighbourhood. The character is not likeable, at least at first, being a casual racist resenting the influx of Hmong immigrants to his street, and is unnecessarily rude to the local Catholic priest. The trajectory of the movie is set up as a confrontation between Eastwood’s character and the gang; the audience is expecting him to go all Fistful of Dollars, but in fact he resolves the conflict satisfactorily without inflicting any violence on the gang. [/spoilers]

    I don’t believe that Eastwood is a one-dimensional, liberal-hating, modern Republican; he’s more nuanced than that, and while his films portray violence, they don’t present it as unalloyed good, even in circumstances where it looks like the most expedient solution to immediate problems.

  24. twas brillig (stevem) says

    re “sniper movies”:
    didja see Enemy at the Gates (2001) with “A Russian sniper and a German sniper play a game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad” (imdb). I only vaguely remember it myself, what I do remember, is that it was fascinating, suspenseful, and not just a shoot’em’up.
    American Sniper is being sold as a shoot’em’up; I hope that is just simplistic marketing to ‘lowest denominator’. And even if that is so, that is sad to know, that the common denom is ‘hateful-long-distance-pinpoint’ death dealing.

  25. microraptor says

    @NelC- the thing you’re not mentioning about Dirty Harry is that his chief is always portrayed as being a weak obstructive bureaucrat who chews Harry out over his actions but is powerless to stop the thugs threatening the city. Harry is ultimately vindicated in his actions. No peaceful resolutions are ever done- violence is always the solution for every problem Harry faces: he’s correct to go outside the law and shoot up all the bad guys, while the police chief and the mayor are portrayed as weak and ineffective.

  26. says

    Microraptor @30, Well, and isn’t violence-as-solution a problem of the action genre in general? Luke nukes the Death Star, the Man With No Name shoots the man with a rifle, Zorro cuts down Don Monterro; all violent situations ended with violence.

    It’s possible to read the bureaucracy of the first Dirty Harry movie as woolly, Liberal wishy-washyness at its worst, as portrayed by the worst of the Right, but it’s also possible to read it as simple inefficiency and incompetence. In the second movie, as I recall, the final boss may pose as a liberal but is in fact the corrupt fascist behind the young fascist I mentioned before.

  27. microraptor says

    It’s been far longer since I’ve seen Magnum Force than Dirty Harry, so I don’t remember that movie as well.

    The real problem isn’t just that the heroes solve problems with violence. Sometimes, violence is appropriate, like if you have a hungry polar bear trying to eat you and there’s nowhere to flee to or there’s a rampaging gunman trying to kill people- presumably a positive resolution to either situation will require some degree of violence. The issue is when you have a claimed deconstruction of the trope that appears to be playing it straight. Then you get Do Not Do This Cool Thing going on. And Dirty Harry definitely resulted in popularizing the idea of the Cowboy Cop who Doesn’t Play By The Rules and instead guns down the bad guys while spouting witty one liners into popular culture.

  28. says

    You are right about veterans not wanting to talk about war.


    My uncle died three weeks ago at the age of 89. He was a Marine who fought in the Pacific. I don’t know exactly where, other than that he did fight at Okinawa. He lied about his age to join the Marines and was not quite 20 years old when the war ended.

    Now here’s the thing. I knew almost nothing of this. His daughter pointed out during her eulogy how her father never talked about his experiences in the war. One of my cousins related how, as a WWII buff, one time he pushed my uncle and tried to get him to talk about his time as a Marine, and my uncle became angry, saying with uncharacteristic anger and vehemence something along the lines of, “You just don’t know. War is never good for anything.” I was a bit of a WWII buff too, but somehow I knew not to ask him. At another point in the eulogy his daughter related how he had prayed to God that if he lived and got out of the war alive, he’d always go to church.

    My uncle almost never missed Sunday mass for well over 60 years, until he became too sick to go. (His last few years he was a cardiac cripple, on home oxygen, etc.

    I don’t know exactly which islands he fought on other than Okinawa, but I strongly suspect that he saw horrors at a tender young age that you or I can only imagine. It changed him. Fortunately, when he came home, he managed to reintegrate into society, get married, have a family, and have a great life. He was an incredibly cool guy that we all loved.

  29. militantagnostic says

    blf @3

    In a shocking development, an notorious atheist who ate a scared cracker and silenced the town’s musical chimes is forcing the local movie theater out of business.

    I for one find it perfectly reasonable that the cracker was scared. Facing the prospect of being eaten is bad enough never mind being eaten by such a godless fiend.

  30. birgerjohansson says

    Clint and the empty chair: i actually got the reference: it is based on the “driving instructor” sketch of the 1960s.
    Most younger people have never heard it, so it is symptomatic of Republicans not understanding the relevance -or lack of it- to younger people. Clint is cool, but some of his ideas are not so good.
    — — —
    After WWII, veterans were everywhere, and while they would not talk about their experiences, being together with others who had experienced similar things might have had a therapeutic effect, somewhat compensating for the lack of professional care for PTSD.

  31. randay says

    “I think it was a flaw to frame Kyle’s four tours of duty as a quest to hunt down a single sniper, “Moustafa””

    That plot line is taken from one of the several movies called “Stalingrad”, the worst of the ones I have seen.

    #2 Tbtabby. Have you seen “A Walk in the Sun”? That one doesn’t seem to inadvertently glorify war.

  32. Morgan says

    My impression of the movie’s success is that it’s spite – it seems to be mostly driven, not by people’s desire to actually see the movie, but to stick it those durned liberals who dare to say it’s not worth seeing. I’d be curious to see how the trend of its earnings compares to the coverage it got in the media.

    Personally, from the first trailer I saw, before it came out or even became a topic of debate, I was put off. The trailer showed Kyle faced with having to shoot a child to keep the child from bombing a group of soldiers, intercut with scenes of his home life, difficulty adjusting to civilian roles, etc. And all I could think was: here we’re being shown a situation where an invading nation has reduced a city to rubble and driven its people to the point where mothers are handing children explosives with which to carry out suicide bombings – and we’re being asked to worry about how bad it makes one of the invaders feel to kill those children?