Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Sniper and our democracy, by Sid Olufs.

   I propose a simple connection:  If you are not intelligent enough to understand this movie, maybe you should no longer vote.  At all. 
   I went to see the other American Sniper.  The one almost all reviewers missed.
   Some people have been passing around reviews of the movie that claim it severely distorts history. I read one review about "the seven lies" told by the movie.  Some folks have taken the message about shepherds narrowly, seeing the movie as a celebration of our warrior-shepherds. 
   Man, oh, man, these reviewers saw the movie in their own room full of mirrors. The movie rotates around an axle, and they missed it:  This is an anti-war film. Here is a hint, people:  All of Clint Eastwood's war films are anti-war films.
  The movies are all about people who buy into stupid ideology, parrot it in the face of obviously contradicting facts, and then act out their version of honor, which always hurts them and other people. In the best of these movies, Eastwood makes a character realize this can't continue, the character finds a shred of humanity in the situation, and tries to live with this new understanding.
   Don't take the word of the reviewers who condemn it or claim it is about what is best about America. When I saw it I thought it was a powerful picture.  Clint Eastwood is an artist. He led the audience to the point of wondering whether he is trying to do too much with music, whether he was being too quick with character development, and so on. But see it and judge it by how you react by the end.
   The folks who dismiss the movie as glorifying a killer are just wrong. The movie did not conform to the way they want the story told about these wars.  But the movie was not about their experience.  It was about something else.
   In the movie, the protagonist was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he was steadfast in whatever role he played.  He was a cowboy for a while, and other things.  But the movie depicted him as having a conversion experience at 9/11. 
  His understanding of this, according to the movie and the book, was not complicated.  My guess is he did not subscribe to the New York Review of Books, did not Read Todd Purdam's book, did not read Seymour Hersch, and so on and so on.  OK, so he was not critical, at all, of the story presented by elected and appointed officials in the Bush administration.
   But after going in, and ignoring the doubters around him, he reached a point where he had to save himself. He found the humanity in it all. And a lot of people saw that part in the real life version of the story. I dismiss critics who apparently want their warriors to be philosophers, too, and have no prejudices, and be nuanced about many things. And to just be smart. In societies that employ warriors (and we are one of them) I might conclude we have done OK if they do the job, find the humanity in it all, and are able to use that when they make the transition back to peaceful life at home. This is not a rah-rah mindless patriotism movie, there are many sides to it. Nice going, Mr. Eastwood.  If you want a take-away message, how about this one:  Are we doing enough for our warriors when they return?  The answer is clearly no.  There is a focus for all of your energies. 
   I would not recommend the movie to anyone.  Folks should see it when they feel ready for a loud encounter with the topic. My guess is that if one has strong feelings about anything connected to this, one will have a large emotional reaction. The audience when I saw it was my age & older (sixty-something plus), and they looked wrung-out & a bit dazed at the end. Several sobbed. I can think of only a few movies that get this far under the skin. What is a "best picture"? Maybe this is one definition.

   Well, like I said.  Most reviews read like the authors wanted acknowledgement of a certain read on these wars.  It is sort of like the folks who rail against Selma (the movie) because it depicts Johnson as a little less enthusiastic about civil rights than they like to remember.  OK, granted, but do the critics realize that a whole lot of people saw it differently?  Movies that attempt to portray the views of people we don't consort with are going to bump into elements of our identity.  Go ahead, let your identity win.  No problems here.  Everything is Fine.  It's Fine. 


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