August 4, 2020

IM Film Review: American Sniper — The Old Wild West in the New Middle East


The Old Wild West in the New Middle East
IM Review of “American Sniper”

The title of this review reflects a line from American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s reverent biopic of Chris Kyle, a sniper during the Iraq War credited with 160 kills, the most in American military history. It also reflects iconic films from Eastwood’s career. He, of course, is famous for his roles in westerns, portraying lone dispensers of justice in a world beset by evil. “In the universe of his films,” writes N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott, “— a universe where the existence of evil is a given — violence is a moral necessity, albeit one that often exacts a cost from those who must wield it in the service of good.”

The narrative goes like this:

  • People are besieged by pure evil in the form of villains with no conscience who will stop at nothing to destroy what is good.
  • Most of the good people are impotent to stop the evil ones.
  • One man rises up (or rides into town) with extraordinary gravitas and courage to take a stand. He will not be persuaded to do otherwise.
  • Evil does its best to compromise or destroy him.
  • However, the good man is better and more skilled at dispensing violence, and thus evil is conquered.
  • He is also able to come to terms with himself and the impact evil has made on him.

American Sniper is, at its heart, a cowboy movie. It’s a great one too, a well-acted, gripping old-fashioned shoot-em-up that will have you cheering when the good guys win and the bad guys bite the dust. Its morality reflects pure black and white. It’s a hero pic with hordes of faceless enemies and one grand villain (though he is not characterized beyond a few mentions of his backstory). The dusty streets and rooftops could pass for the wild west, Kyle has a “posse” of faithful sidekicks, and his woman waits nervously at home, wondering if he will ever make it back to her.

fnd_mc_americansniperChris Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper, who does a stellar job portraying Kyle as a gentle giant with a job to do to preserve the American way of life. His character was formed by a daddy who raised him well, teaching him to shoot and take care of his gun, and giving him a simple, compelling moral view of the world. He tells him there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Most people are sheep, they need protecting from the wolves that threaten them. The boy better not think of being anything but a sheepdog — strong, protective, using whatever means necessary to guarantee the safety of his own.

And that about sums up the depth of insight we gain into Kyle’s character. He has no demons of his own, only those inflicted upon him by his contacts with evil. Honorable from youth, he bides his time riding rodeo until the events of 9/11 move him to join the military. He serves four tours in Iraq. Some of his kills involve women and children and we see the pain this causes him. On his trips home between deployments, Kyle’s wife struggles with how distant he has become. The aftereffects from combat leave him increasingly estranged, and on occasion he shows a few signs of PTSD. But these are wounds inflicted from without, by his engagement with evil. He is not like some of Eastwood’s other characters, dark, mysterious men who have secrets in their hearts and past. Chris Kyle is a pure hero.

One of the weaknesses of American Sniper is that it doesn’t develop any other characters. Even Kyle’s wife, played by Sienna Miller, who gets the most screen time, is given the limited role of worrying about her man, keeping the home fires burning, and expressing hope that one day he will come all the way back and devote himself to the family again. Kyle’s buddies trade banter with him, there’s a lot of talk about “team,” and you know he’s there for them but it doesn’t get much beyond that. Eastwood’s Chris Kyle is truly the lone “Legend” in this film — set apart from everybody else.

The movie has been a huge box office success, and has generated a fair amount of political controversy. However, American Sniper ignores politics altogether to focus on this one man doing his duty. I, for one, am glad of that, because soldiers like Chris Kyle and his mates should not be caught in the middle of political wrangling. If you want to argue politics, let’s talk about the people who sent them to Iraq and the policies they enacted which made it necessary for young men and women to go into harm’s way.

No, American Sniper is not political, it’s something else. It’s mythical. That is why audiences are filling theaters to see it. Here, in the conservative heartland where I live, the movie house was packed and it was hard to find a seat. People hunger to see something with moral clarity and heroes, a story which validates their underlying beliefs. It doesn’t matter to them if it is 100% accurate or reflects all the complexities of war or the human psyche. Literalists will never understand this, but people are more shaped by their mythos and ethos than they are by analysis and reasoning based on facts. Chris Kyle represents a deeply ingrained American myth, one upon which director Clint Eastwood has built his entire career:

One man.

Doing his job.

Standing for justice.

Protecting others from evil.

Resorting to violence when necessary.

Coming to terms with himself.

In my view, myths are fine, if you understand that’s what they are. They can be entertaining, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Who doesn’t love a good western? So I accept and appreciate American Sniper for what it is: a well-crafted movie that faithfully represents a great American mythos and ethos.

Whether or not I actually buy in to that mythos and ethos is another question entirely.

• • •

MV5BMTkxNzI3ODI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjkwMjY4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_American Sniper
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Warner Brothers, 2014


  1. Wasn’t planning on seeing it.

    But your fine review has changed my mind.

    Thank you, Mike.

  2. This is more about the book and the willingness to believe what we choose to believe. Very interesting article.

    • The author of that post, which I’ve read previously, misses the point. As the IM post here points out – the movie is about the mythos, not the truth; which is true of most Movies, otherwise they would be a Documentaries.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And we need mythic heroes and mythic stories.

        Our Enlightened Betters in the Hollywood Establishment are wringing their hands with Concern (AKA flat-out Jealousy) over American Sniper‘s success, but people long for heroes.

        And except for a mythologized Chris Kyle and colorful cartoon ponies, what other Mythic Heroes(TM) do we have except for the likes of Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, and Honey Boo-Boo.

        • “And we need mythic heroes and mythic stories.”

          Need? Possibly. But they get in the way as much as they help in any case.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            We’ll get them anyway. If we have none, we’ll fill the vacuum. That’s how folk heroes & stories of saints got started.

            Up until the Sixties, the US had mythologized versions of historical figures — Washington, Lincoln, TR. And heroes and examples, both legendary and based on RL. And fictional archetypes such as the cowboy, the gunslinger, the Western Sherriff, the war hero of old.

            Since The Sixties(TM), all those have been deconstructed with curled upper lip, ironic quip, and twelve-syllable words of academic Marxspeak. All we have left to fill the vacuum are fictional superheroes and the likes of Kim Kardashian.

    • Very interesting article indeed. Overlong, but I pushed thru to the end and would call it mandatory reading for anyone commenting on the film or book. Except in reading a few of the comments to the article itself it is obvious that objectivity and truth occupy different levels in relation to other values depending upon who is doing the valuing, one of the main points of the article.

      I give the Monastery relatively high marks in the search for Truth compared to most other places, which is why I hang out here. But in the end, outside of the level of Unity with God which Jesus reached, all of our perceptions and experiences here on Earth are relative. That concept, that truth, if you will, is upsetting to some even here. Just the way things are and not likely to change much today. But little by little I believe we, humanity, are making progress in raising the bar of spiritual evolution. Keeps me out of despair.

  3. Joseph (the original) says

    Let’s not forget that Chris Kyle was also a victim of his military experience. He was indoctrinated into the military machine how-to’s and the political rhetoric that goes along with any ultra-patriotic PR effort that attempts to justify the horrors of war in the name of: (fill in the blank _____). For whatever reason, Chris decided to become a sniper in the conflict that convinced him his participation, and sharpshooter skill, were needed and glorified in the overall scheme of things. I suppose ‘choosing’ to be a sniper targeting other human beings serious enough fodder for psychological and ethical considerations. I suppose if I were ever forced into military service when I was draft age I would have made my utmost effort to be part of the medical corpsman type, like my father was as a Marine during WWII. But that’s just me, not a reflection on the politics of war or the character of Chris Kyle. War is one of the worst symptoms of human dysfunction. I understand some of the why’s and I can sympathize with the global unrest that does seem to be ‘threatening’ in some vague way or another. I’m not convinced that being a sniper automatically earns someone the badge of Hero, but I also understand the military purpose for fine-tuning such skills. God have mercy on the people Chris killed along with any of their surviving family and friends. And God have mercy on Chris too and his surviving family and friends. As the main character of the story that had to deal with the damaging results of being a military sniper and the incredible toll it took on his psyche, I feel sadness that just a small part of Chris’ history of the ill effects his service caused was a part of Hollywood’s attempt to humanize what is truly inhuman. There are no ‘winners’ or ‘heroes’ in this story. I feel his life, as well as the lives he snuffed out with his rifle, were wasted on the field of conflicting ideologies that did not reflect the contrary principles of the Kingdom.

    Lord…have mercy… 🙁

    • Very well said, Joseph.

    • Joseph – yes. Very well-put.

    • …to humanize what is truly inhuman.

      I think one could argue that war and killing are some of the most human activities the species engages in.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        I suppose one could argue that the ‘default’ human nature of might-makes-right and an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ is still graphically exhibited today as it has been throughout human history…


        However, in light of the Incarnation and the establishment of a divine Kingdom, I wish to emphasize a new paradigm Jesus spoke of during His earthly ministry…

        Jesus manifested to us what it meant to be ‘fully human’, not the default nature that He addressed on more than one occasion. What He did is create, or establish, or raise the bar on what it means to be truly human…

        If we understand the concept of sin to be missing the mark, then all sinfulness is really being inhuman, or less than human. I think Jesus’ example of non-violence and high regard for all human life one of the most convoluted upside principles of the Kingdom He introduced at a very brutal time in human history: the total domination of Rome in Europe and the Mediterranean.

        Killing other human beings, whether one wishes to consider such action justified, still falls short of being fully human, and I think it would dehumanize the one taking another’s life, even if such measurement seems minor. I know I would never be the same if I reacted out of fear or danger that ended up with the death of someone. I hope I don’t ever have to be faced with that scenario, anymore than being responsible for another’s death from an accident no matter how it happened.

        Yes, war and killing are indeed too common today, but I wish to categorize such horrors as inhuman and not reflecting the only One that was truly human…

  4. “Who doesn’t love a good western?”

    I always have, but less and less. I’ve read several reviews. I’m not going to see American Sniper.

    “Most of the good people are impotent to stop the evil ones…. He tells him there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.”

    I am just really tired of this meme. I get it, and it is an *old* meme. The Chosen One. I am just tired of it. It is not true, at all; in reality it is insulting, and insults the audience. But I hear it too often *outside* the movie theater; ‘people are stupid sheep’ [always with the exception of the speaker]. We get so much of this meme that it has tainted our culture and society. For me it even ruins schmaltz like Marvel Superhero movies – why don’t any of those other people do anything? They just stand there and wait to be helped. It is an odd meme to be so extremely popular in red-blooded American.

    People aren’t impotent; a great many people are simply left with little resources [material or physcological] to fight any fights other than those life drops in front of them.

    • Perhaps it’s popular in red-blooded Americans because it includes as a corollary that any one of us can be the Chosen One–that we IDENTIFY ourselves with John Wayne characters, or Thor, or Hulk, or Captain America (or Batman, for you dark and brooding types), rather than admire them while identifying with the mundane “sheep.” Tony Stark is basically the American Dream personified, in my extremely limited opinion.

      Alternatively, it may be popular in spite of the “red-blooded American” ethos because of how super superheroes are, it may be that we really DO look up to them as greater than ourselves (even in spite of all our hard work). In an age where religion has soured in the mouths of many people–particularly Marvel’s core demographic–people still find themselves looking for the numinous or awe-inspiring and clamoring for Chosen Ones of any sort to marvel at (no pun intended, honest).

      Either way this sounds like a great term paper subject.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Superheroes are mythic Heroes and Demigods. That’s been obvious for a long time.

        And the current crop of Marvel Superhero movies present Mythologies of Larger-than-Life Heroes.

        Star Wars took off in 1977 because instead of the FAH-shionable GrimDark/Crapsack Important Message Movies of the post-Vietnam Angst era, it was a classic pulp-hero adventure with clear-cut Good Guys and Bad Guys, and (unheard of in Serious(TM) films of the period) THE GOOD GUYS ACTUALLY WON!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        P.S. And the mythology of “The Old West” has been part of American culture since the 19th Century. It’s a homegrown, completely American mythology, like “tall tales”.

    • Some are out of our reach. But some are about “the other” doing something. Captain America was a weak kid who just wanted to do something to help. You also see it in such cases as Spiderman 2, where the people on the train step up to protect Spidey.

      It is about inspiring us to be more than just one who stands around, perhaps more specifically- to be courageous.

    • They mythos isn’t that all people are sheep. It is that they are out of their element. This meme is explored in Die Hard where the competent hero is faced with the complicating factor of a hostage who believes, based on his skill at business negotiation, that he can negotiate with the terrorists. Bad choice.

      If you want a story about “common people” rising up and striking back at evil, I’d recommend World War Z by Max Brooks. The best way to imbibe this story is the unabridged audio book if you can get it. The author’s Hollywood connections make this a stunning achievement that upends the zombie genre. It’s pretty much the ONLY zombie story I enjoyed. Well, that and Shaun of the Dead, but that’s parody…

      I think the best commentary on the Lone Hero myth is found in the Honest Trailer for Avatar where the commentator sums up the movie’s plot with a dismissive verdict at the end. Google it on YouTube and you will have your sentiment validated in a humorous way.

      • I love any and ALL zombie movies, but I will agree with you: the AUDIO book of “World War Z” is an outstanding achievement. (NOTHING like the movie, by the way, which I also enjoyed for what it was.)

      • “They mythos isn’t that all people are sheep”

        … except that many movies almost explicitly state this idea – and it is apparently so stated in this movie: “Most of the good people are impotent to stop the evil ones…. He tells him there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.””

        I have walked away from quite a few movies in recent years which this exact impression; why didn’t the author just have the villain/enemy/virus/aliens/etc… win? He/she clearly does not have much regard for his/her fellow human beings.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          In DARK & EDGY (spoken like you’re straining with terminal constipation), the villain/enemy/virus/alien DOES win — No Hope, He Dies Horribly, She Dies Horribly, Everybody Dies Horribly, It’s All Over But The Screaming, Am I Not Edgy?

          And we’ve seen too much of that in Important Message media.

          Was it Chesterton, Tolkien, or Lewis that said in fairy tales, it’s not just that there are monsters, but that the monsters can be defeated.

          • Neil Gaiman wrote: ““Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten,” which is a paraphrase of G. K. Chesterton.

    • Most people DO actually just STAND THERE and do nothing! They’d rather stand back and complain/criticize/commiserate because it is safer than stepping up.

      Ever been in a jury pool? It is usually the more forward person who becomes foreman, and that it out of THOUSANDS who are called, most of whom beg out.

      Ever been in ANY leadership position dependent on volunteers? Helpers are ALWAYS lacking, and there is no lack of valid excuses for no stepping up. Most people TALK a good game, very few play one. Churches are a great example of this dynamic, as any church worker will testify. 10% doing the work, 90% standing back.

      I am currently on an H.O.A. board and when people complain about the “privileged” board members making decisions that “no one” likes I always ask them, “Why don’t you come to an occasional 30 minute, monthly meeting and be part of the solution?” Their answer is ALWAYS the same: “I don’t have time for that.” No time? 30 minutes? Once a month?! My response is a variation on “Do you think that WE are any different?”

      No, it’s not just some “meme’, it’s REAL, and it’s called HUMAN NATURE! People are ALWAYS looking for a savior of one sort or another, be it political, religious or otherwise. They never consider that THEY may be a help, like Gideon hiding under the wine press.

      • ” Most people DO actually just STAND THERE and do nothing!”

        No, I do not believe this.

        “They’d rather stand back and complain/criticize/commiserate because it is safer than stepping up.”

        There is certainly that crowd.

        “Ever been in a jury pool?”

        Yes. A hilarious story actually – it involved a wealthy white estate owner accusing a black pedestrian of stealing his “watermelon money”[*1]. For real! A funny story, or at least it was from the juror’s perspective. The defendant obviously felt differently. And the judge was beyond visibly annoyed, the poor lawyer who was employed by the accuser… I felt sorry for that guy.

        [*1] He piled watermelons in his front yard and had a can where people could leave $1 for each watermelon they took. When he came out to check the can there was no money in it but several watermelons were missing. So he filed suit against the pedestrian he had seen walk by several times.

        “It is usually the more forward person who becomes foreman, ”

        I agree, but I don’t believe leadership needs to be equated to participation. I think the old adage “if you want to know who is a leader, look to see who people are following” is true. Leadership is a distinct issue.

        “and that it out of THOUSANDS who are called, most of whom beg out.”

        I’ve seen the numbers, many do end up not serving, but it is not that dramatic.

        “Ever been in ANY leadership position dependent on volunteers?”

        Yes, in both church and secular roles.

        “Helpers are ALWAYS lacking, and there is no lack of valid excuses for no stepping up.”

        I agree, and I recognize that these are usually “*valid* excuses”. Looking at the situation with a bit of charity: an average American works 8.7 hours per day and the average American has a commute of 0.425 hours each way for that job. So the average is 9.55 hours a day just for work, or 47.75 hours a week. So even before the basic chores of life – or heaven forbid having a marriage or children – that’s essentially a ten hour day. Take 8 hours of sleeping away and there is only six hours left for *everything* else; and people do need to just sit down once in awhile. This schedule for a single parent is something I cannot even begin to imagine.

        I do not believe this makes them Sheep at all; as I said “a great many people are simply left with little resources [material or physiological] to fight any fights other than those life drops in front of them”

        “Most people TALK a good game, very few play one.”

        Replace Most with Some and I agree with you. Those Some may often seem like Most as those Some are often loud and frequent – as talking is what they do.

        “Churches are a great example of this dynamic, as any church worker will testify. 10% doing the work, 90% standing back.”

        Perhaps. However, how many of that 90% are the 10% somewhere else?

        “I am currently on an H.O.A. board and when people complain…”

        Oh, man. We could sit down, have a beer, and commiserate. I feel it. I could share stories – like how the local government just held forty [FORTY!] meetings around the city in the last couple of months to get any comments or feedback or input on the master plan for the next several years. At one meeting not a single citizen showed up. And then the first comment on the new article about how not a single person showed up … drum-roll… a long angry complaint about how nobody is interested in the commentator’s views or perspective. They could have shown up and had several municipal planners all to themselves for two hours – but the irony was clearly lost on the commentator.

        It can be very depressing, but there are a lot of variables in play.

        “People are ALWAYS looking for a saviour of one sort or another, be it political, religious or otherwise.”

        Some people, yes.

        “They never consider that THEY may be a help,”

        Except for the many who are. And there are many more who would be if they could disentangle themselves from our cultural demands of ‘success’; but that is a hard thing for someone to do when they do not realize that is what they want to do until mid-life, at which point all the cords are firmly attached.

        I also find that a great many people are very isolated. They are disconnected – in large part due to those time constraints – from their neighbours and community. Centralized news sources don’t help. When you occasionally get a moment with them they are frequently surprised to learn of many things going on right around them; so citing them for not participating is not very charitable, they didn’t know.

    • Does this movie make no mention of Kyle’s RL references to Iraqis as “savages”? Or to his claims re. standing on a rooftop on New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and picking people off?

      I have never liked the whole “lone gunslinger” subgenre of Westerns, and to say that that’s all this film is seems, to me at least, to ignore the RL Chris Kyle in favor of a myth created by both Kyle, the screenwriters and Eastwood himself. Eastwood has remade Kyle as one of the anti-heroes from his own earlier movies.

      Could anyone do what Kyle did in wartime and *not* be damaged by it? I think the anser to that is absolutely not. War damages all participants.

      But (I guess my early inclination toward “peace church” and Civil Rights movement ideas is showing), I don’t think this movie was necessary. Inevitable – yes. Wise: well, not so much. We have our frontier mythos as a smokescreen to hid a lot of what *really* went on in the West: the systematic eradication of Native peoples. On a large scale at that. American exceptionalism depends on that old canard many Israelis still repeat, about “a people without a land coming to a land without a people.” In both our case and theirs, it’s simply not true. But it sure is easier to pose outlaws vs. “righteous” gunslinger-avengers as *the* defining myth of the West, rather than face the truth, which is messy, complicated and which shows us with blood on our hands.

      I think the same is true of this movie and others like it (contemporary war movies, that is). Yes, atrocities have been committed by people on *all* sides of the Iraq war. Let’s own up to our part in that instead of making Chris Kyle our “heroic” lone gunman. (I suspect that anyone who has been keeping careful tabs on Ferguson, the killing of Eric Garner, the fatal shootings of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice – and many others – would see the flaws in CM’s arguments.)

      CM, I really like you, but on this one, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      • I’m not sure we disagree, numo. In fact, I’m pretty sure we don’t on most of what you wrote. But you will note my last line. I decided not to show my theological/moral/ethical cards with regards to this film and chose to describe it for what it is, leaving the discussion to others. I did say it is important to always remember when we are partaking of myths, and this film is definitely mythological.

        • Yes, i noticed that, but i do wish you had a least let us have a quick glimpse of the cards you’re holding.

          Why anyone would boast of so many killings – and why anyone else would want to make a movie about said person without being honest about said person’s pathology – is beyond me. I am saddened by the fact that the movie wss made, and by the ultra-simplistic characterization of Kyle.

          Just plain wrong on so very many levels.

          • Let me tell you what I appreciated about the movie, numb, and this, according to interviews, was one of Eastwood’s main intentions. In setting his focus so strongly about one individual soldier, it shows the gap between the experience of the soldiers in our military and those at home. Certainly Chris Kyle was a more complex and flawed person than the film represents. He is no hero for me in real life though I can appreciate that many of his comrades owe their life to him. But I need to know something of what the young men and women in our military experience. I visit with veterans every week and must enter their worlds in order to befriend and encourage them. The film helped me understand their plight and perspective better.

            If you’ve read other things I’ve written, for example, last Memorial Day, you know my feelings about war and especially those in power who wield it, putting young lives at risk and destroying so many families.

          • CM, good points, and i certainly do recall those pieces.

            I guess maybe what you’ve just said is, perhsps, the lead-in i hoped to see. But then, it’s not my piece, is it? 🙂

            • My silence gave you a good chance to state your views, numo, rather than simply tagging mine. For the sake of discussion, I think that’s the preferable course sometimes.

      • Numo, you are so right it hurts.

  5. Good review. I saw it last week. Good movie but I don’t think it’s Best Picture worthy. The 6 points of the narrative at the top of the review are EXACTLY the flow of the movie. It’s a very black & white movie in terms of good vs evil. There’s no Platoon here where good & evil cut thru the heart of each character. Any ambiguity or doubt in other characters just serves to strengthen Kyle’s resolve.

    Two things that the movie had me thinking about. One: war – even a “just war” – takes an incredible toll on these soldiers and most of them are just kids. Two: I thought the movie did a good job of showing what escalating violence looks like. You kill 1 of ours, we want to kill 10 of yours. Particularly relevant in this day and age and to Christian spirituality as a whole.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      One: war – even a “just war” – takes an incredible toll on these soldiers and most of them are just kids.

      One of my battle buddies, who was injured in an IED explosion/vehicle rollover, told me, “I don’t care if what I did is honorable. What good is honor when you’re stuck with mood swings and TBI for the rest of your life?” He was 21 when he was injured.

    • -> “the movie did a good job of showing what escalating violence looks like. You kill 1 of ours, we want to kill 10 of yours.”

      Another great movie that depicts this – especially relevant because of the subject matter (Western civilization vs. Islamic fighters) is “The Battle for Algiers.” That movie should be required viewing for anyone who thinks violence and military might is the answer.

      • Yes, Rick Ro, “the Battle for Algiers” is an incredible film. Should be at the top of war movies to watch. It probably is too realistic tho., we like to “feel good.” I have seen some documentaries to out war that are excellent; not showing Baylee’s; “the Fog of War;12Questions for Robert McNamara”. He was sort of brave to make that; it is very enlightening. Also good is “Why we Fight,” an analysis of Eisenhower’s last speech as President. Anything about war, to me, is so depressing, but good to wonder about, I know. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and there were lots of articles about it, with facts being released from the official secrets act, OOPS, I am way off the post. I understand this young man died after returning home? Any other good war movies that you like?

  6. Marcus Johnson says

    I have a slightly different perspective on this movie but, in the end, the same conclusion as Chaplain Mike. First, I’m a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Second, I just came off of reading three books in a row that represented the experiences of combat veterans: They Fought For Each Other, by Kelly Kennedy; Thank You For Your Service, by David Finkel; and Home by Toni Morrison (the latter book featuring a Korean War veteran living with PTSD, but still just as relevant a read as the first two).

    Okay, I’m really just plugging these three books. If you haven’t added them to your library, I strongly suggest that you do.

    After reading these three books, and reflecting on my own personal combat experience, I have to respect Chaplain Mike’s review of American Sniper. The folks who have tried to reframe this movie for use in political rhetoric (liberal or conservative, anti- or pro-war) are missing the point, just as those who insist on preaching the Ten Commandments as the foundation for American law are missing the point. Chaplain Mike stated, and I have to reiterate it, that:

    people are more shaped by their mythos and ethos than they are by analysis and reasoning based on facts.

    The more we try to fight against this reality of our human condition, and claim that our identities are shaped by objective logic, the more we become susceptible to those who are aware that we are, in fact, shaped by mythos and ethos. Eastwood understood this when he directed this movie, and if we understand it when we see it, then American Sniper becomes neither a pro-war nor an anti-war movie. The labels fall away and, in its place, is a movie that has its shortcomings, and may not offer us what we expect in terms of character development, but shows us a part of and, in doing so, reveals something about who we are.

    • THANK YOU Marcus! That is SO the POINT! Some are so caught up in their own thinking that they cannot put it on hold in order to see something else. Jaundice is bitter, and it colors everything with a yellow haze.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      After reading these three books, and reflecting on my own personal combat experience, I have to respect Chaplain Mike’s review of American Sniper. The folks who have tried to reframe this movie for use in political rhetoric (liberal or conservative, anti- or pro-war) are missing the point, just as those who insist on preaching the Ten Commandments as the foundation for American law are missing the point.

      Both are acting like Classic Communists, who reframed EVERYTHING in terms of “The Political Political Political”.

    • But those who “have tried to reframe this movie for use in political rhetoric” are, in action, paying tribute to the reality that “people are more shaped by their mythos and ethos than they are by analysis and reasoning based on facts.”

      Ultimately a war movie is always either, or both, pro-war/anti-war. Because it will be used as a illustration of the mythos we accept or reject.

  7. In your chattel list of the American ethos, you need to insert that cinematic preamble:
    “In a world…”

    • What do you mean, Steve, chattel list of ethos, ?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I second Hanni. Never heard that term “chattel list of ethos” before, but it has the rhythm of Marxspeak mixed with Psychobabble, which makes me suspicious. Might be a highly-technical term, but in any case it needs clarification. Simple and direct is best.

      • I choose to believe “chattel” is a typo.

        What exactly it’s a typo FOR, I have no idea.

    • Perhaps I should have picked another term.
      In construction, a chattel list is a list of things delivered along with the main product. If your new house came with a refrigerator and stove dishwasher, it is part of the chattel list for the new house, to prove you got everything that was in contract.
      The movie review came with a list that represented the ethos of an Eastwood movie, I used the shorthand term of chattel list to describe the catchphrases often used in movie trailers.
      I now realize I’m speaking to people who probably attach it’s more ancient meaning, rather than the sanitized meaning used in construction.
      But then, I never could tell a joke well.

  8. By framing this as a classic cowboy story, I’m wondering about the long-term cultural damage we are inflicting on Arabs as a culture by creating an “epic” bad-guy. The long-term damage that the cowboy narrative has had on First Nations people is immense. Dehumanizing any people group (metanarrative) is not appropriate for Christians – even if there is a cost to the “hero.”

  9. As someone who didn’t grow up in the U.S. my perspective may be a little different. I’ve always been troubled by a lot of the American myths such as the one you point out in this movie because they so very often rely on violence and portray it as the solution. I’m not at all sure that’s healthy for a society, but it’s how it is. We even export that mythos. Not sure that’s healthy either.

    • “As someone who didn’t grow up in the U.S. my perspective may be a little different”

      I grew up in the US; the rural gun-toting midwest. And my perspective is like yours. People shot each other rather regularly. It was a *singular* tragedy every time. It’s nuts.

      “so very often rely on violence and portray it as the solution”

      It is the best solution that fits in 120 minutes.

      ” I’m not at all sure that’s healthy for a society”


      “but it’s how it is”


  10. I think it’s a little bit unfair to lay “violence” on America. If you want to talk myths, maybe that’s one we should talk about. The country’s only been around a couple hundred years, after all. Seems like “violence” has been around a lot longer than that, in places other than America. Violence is simply one tribe trying to get something it wants, and another tribe trying to stop the first tribe from getting what it wants, and that’s been a condition since early Biblical records. There’s nothing “American” about it. From the Punic Wars and Roman conquests and Alexander the Great and Napolean and yada yada yada…and even after America existed, the Europeans have long been violent themselves. WWI – European-bred. WWII – European-bred (with a mix of Asia). And African nations and Asian nations…everyone’s got violence in their history and violence in their culture, even now. It’s not an “American” thing, and I wish everyone would stop pointing at America and saying, “There’s the problem.” America may be PART of the problem, but some countries who do the finger-pointing best look in the mirror.

    • I wasn’t comparing, just noting what one who is not immersed in a culture observes. The question for me is not whether one nation is more or less violent than another, but whether Christians should buy into and perpetuate a cultural/national mythos that seems to diverge significantly from and even conflict with the message and way of Jesus. My observation is that in America the power of the mythos is such that they often do, and as mentioned I’m not sure that is particularly healthy.

      • Yes, I guess America plays to the mythos, or maybe “glamorization,” of violence. I guess what I’m suggesting is that every culture has its form of touting violence as a “solution” or a “good thing.”

        For Asians, maybe it’s “for honor.”
        For Russians/Europeans, maybe it’s “for the Motherland/Fatherland.”
        For Islam, it’s “for Allah, to kill the infidels.”

  11. What is the difference between mythos, the tabloid, and propaganda? I mean, I get it that mythos drives people. Is that mythos hijacked by those wielding propaganda and tabloid truthiness to control and manipulate the populist? Perhaps I beg the question.

    • “What is the difference between mythos, the tabloid, and propaganda?”

      The label, otherwise, nothing.

    • And how does that misdirected/manipulated mythos impact cultural ethos and pathos? I just read Enn’s response to Starne’s Fox News commentary defending the movie as compatible with Christian faith. Not every story is a Christian story nor does it have to be. To evoke Jesus (e.g. “Well done good and faithful servant” when referring to the main character’s actions) is unnecessary and confusing. If you want a shoot-’em-up good vs. bad guy movie, fine. If you have to justify that desire by wrapping it in Christian lingo, then something is wrong.

  12. Fear and sentimentality are powerful drivers.

  13. Dirty Harry seemed to have racial elements and played on those fears (was “punk” a euphemism?). It seems this story plays on xenophobic and racial fears.

  14. I actually thought it was a great movie from a story-telling standpoint. Not as poignant as Gran Torino, but good. However, in real life Chris Kyle was a pathological liar and probably a psychopath – and his war experience was part of that. Not that I think artistic expressions should reflect reality all the time (what a boring world that would be!) but I’m a bit concerned that the general public won’t think past the painting over.

  15. Does the movie include the real ending, Kyle and his buddy being shot and killed by a deranged veteran with post traumatic stress disorder?

  16. “However, in real life Chris Kyle was a pathological liar and probably a psychopath” said the proctologist.

    And you know this HOW exactly?

  17. “people are more shaped by their mythos and ethos than they are by analysis and reasoning based on facts”

    I have no doubt that this statement is true but it doesn’t have to be true. It is hard to think rationally and skeptically. It is not something we do naturally by default. But we can work at it and train ourselves to the point where we’re not so easy to manipulate. And like any difficult task it becomes easier with experience.

    Our political and religious leaders rely on this gullibility and have long perfected the techniques needed to push the right buttons on the body politic. To get what you want all you have to do is convince people that they are doing the bidding of a competent authority and are consequently free of responsibility. If you do this you can get people to do anything.

    To get people to go to a foreign country and kill people they’ve never met on the orders of people they’ve never met for purposes they don’t understand you couch it in terms of “patriotism” and “love of country” and “freedom”. As soon as you look at this skeptically of course and see it for what is, the gig is up. Which is why people who look at such things skeptically are treated like pariahs.

  18. I don’t plan to see the movie, and in fact didn’t read this blog post until I saw the link at the right on the IM Bulletin Board: “Why Are So Many Christians Worshiping the American Sniper?” written by Benjamin Corey of Formerly Fundie.

    Go and read that article too, along with Mike’s, before you see the movie. It’s what I’ve been talking about since Desert Storm.

  19. From what I’ve read so far, I don’t have much interest in seeing the film…especially if the cultural-warrior evangelical Bushite crowd loves it and is going to use it rag on people like me who believe/practice pacifism/nonresistance, or those of us who opposed the war from the beginning, or use it to whine about MSM “persecution” or anybody else to the left of them who dares to question the film’s facts or its ‘christianity’ etc. Finally, I’m just sick and tired of violence…including its portrayal.

    • “I’m just sick and tired of violence…including its portrayal.”

      In many ways, I am too, Andrew. I have always felt this to be a blind spot in American Christianity. I recall going to see a Clint Eastwood movie once. It was one of the first movies that a production company tried to sell to Christian audiences. They gave a free showing for pastors, and I went. It certainly had themes that could have been used for discussion in Christian circles. But it was graphically violent and the climax came when Eastwood’s character shot a man in the forehead at point blank range. The audience of pastors and Christian workers clapped and cheered their approval at this brutal dispensing of a human being. I was so troubled by this that I brought it up in one of my seminary classes. No one saw any problem and questioned why it should bother me.

      It still does bother me, but a couple of years ago I forced myself to watch the movie “A History of Violence,” after hearing an interview with its director. He made the point that violence is so ingrained in our American psyche that he wanted to explore it and what it does to people. I have made it a point since then not to avoid all violent films just because they are violent, but to watch some of them that I think might be thoughtful representations of violent behavior and conflict so that I can learn about this side of our (my) humanity. I have never reached a place where I am comfortable with violence or its portrayal, indeed, I abhor it and find my stomach turning more times than not. But if there is one thing that has characterized us as human beings over the course of our existence, it is violent behavior, and I think it is imperative that I not simply ignore that reality out of mere disgust if I can learn something that will make me less violent and more compassionate.

      • Thanks Mike for the thoughtful response and the recommend. I’ll look for that one. I admit to not totally avoiding all violence in movies (which may sound inconsistent with what I stated) but maybe I’m more sick of watching something that I know or have heard that american christians “like” which seems to be mostly war violence.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          This might be a corollary to something I noticed over the years regarding Activists against Sex & Violence in Media (Movies & TV):


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I recall going to see a Clint Eastwood movie once. It was one of the first movies that a production company tried to sell to Christian audiences. They gave a free showing for pastors, and I went.

        Pale Rider?

  20. david brainerd says

    A propaganda movie for the warmongering Calvinists.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Go into a little more detail (especially how this relates to Calvinists) or this is just a buzzword bingo one-liner worthy of Twitter.

      • Yep, what HUG says. This is a comment that may or may not be valid, but comes across as a bomb tossed by someone with a chip on their shoulder. And I’m not Calvinist.

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