I have not seen, and do not plan to see, this film about a real life sniper Chris Kyle who apparently has the deadliest kill record in US military history. While some critics say that Clint Eastwood’s film portrays war in a complex way, it may have been too nuanced because the public seems to have reacted to it with jingoistic pride at the way that Kyle gunned people down in the war in Iraq, making it a huge success at the box office. The fact that Eastwood put the word ‘American’ in the title seemed to me that he was saying that Kyle somehow represented America and this undoubtedly would have colored people’s perceptions to think of this film as an exercise in patriotism.
Henry Giroux, Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University, writes that the popularity of this film, when compared to the much smaller crowds for better films also about real people such as Selma about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Citizenfour about Edward Snowden, is a telling sign of America’s addiction to violence.
Of the three films, Citizenfourand Selma invoke the courage of men and women who oppose the violence of the state in the interest of two different forms of lawlessness, one marked by a brutalizing racism and the other marked by a suffocating practice of surveillance. American Sniper is a film that erases history, spectacularizes violence, and reduces war and its aftermath to cheap entertainment, with an under explained referent to the mental problems many vets live with when they return home from the war. In this case the aftermath of war becomes the main narrative, a diversionary tacit and story that erases any attempt to understand the lies, violence, corruption, and misdeeds that caused the war in the first place. Moreover, the film evokes sympathy not for its millions of victims but exclusively for those largely poor youth who have to carry the burden of war for the dishonest politicians who send them often into war zones that should never have existed in the first place. Amy Nelson at Slate gets it right in stating that “American Sniper convinces viewers that Chris Kyle is what heroism looks like: a great guy who shoots a lot of people and doesn’t think twice about it.”
It is clear that the film seems to have energized those who had been dispirited by the manifest failure of the war to achieve its stated goals and has made the situation much worse.
Americans tend to genuflect to the military. Larry Wilmore devoted one show to this film and had on the panel a leader of a veterans organization and a sniper. The other two guests (one of whom was the normally acerbic Matt Taibbi) and Wilmore seemed cowed by the presence of the two military people and did not go near the key issue of whether the glorification of killing people, some of them civilians, in an illegal war that was dishonestly sold deserved to be portrayed heroically.