American Sniper stirs debate in the US about effects of war, gun culture

Venkata Kondubhatla

WASHINGTON: War movies rarely do well at the box office. There are a few exceptions like the American Sniper, a war movie released on January 16, which has busted that myth.  In the beginning, the movie collected modest revenues, but soon became a block-buster and has been nominated for the Oscar’s best picture award 2015.

The movie is based on the real story of Chris Kyle, a war veteran and a sniper. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood and the lead role played by Bradley Cooper. Americans are being pulled to the theaters unlike any other war movie though it glorifies war like other movies in the past such as The Hurt Locker released in 2008. Is there anything in the movie that strikes a different chord with movie-goers?

Based on the memoirs written by Kyle himself, the movie depicts his life – his visits to Iraq, his family back home and his post-war stress. The book attracted many readers, but the numbers are nothing compared to the movie. What has changed from the time that the book was written and now is that Kyle was killed by a person whom he rescued at one time.  Kyle’s death may have added to the number of people flocking theaters, but one cannot ignore that fact that the movie was skillfully directed. Eastwood, who is an expert in handling such themes, was successful in bringing out the darker, shadier side of the hero as well as his reputation as a legend.

What is the take away for the audience; is the movie pro-war or anti-war?  To me, it is both.

It is pro-war because it glorifies war to some extent. It hails the sniper’s success as a sharp shooter. Kyle’s love for the country, his conviction that whatever he is doing is to protect his fellow citizens, doing his job without asking questions and feeling proud in his duty strengthens this belief.

The depiction gives the impression of a war hero – a “legend,” as the army community calls him. The movie depicts Kyle’s making of such a personality;  his father’s dialogue in the beginning hat he is not raising sheep in his family is one such example.  It is also reflected at the end of the movie when Kyle teaches hunting to his son.  The display of guns in this film is as common as in any other Hollywood action movie.

The other side of the “legend” emerges  in the second half of the film when Kyle slowly begins turning human. The scene where he sits in a bar in his hometown after nine months in Iraq and receives a call from his wife, who does not know that he is in town, depicts guilt of the icon: “I needed some time for myself,” the icon says to his wife, who asks him to come home. How he overcomes the post-traumatic stress and depiction of war as hell brings out the anti-war stance to the film.

However, the movie has made a cult figure more popular and controversial. The rightists as well as the leftists have used it to propagate their beliefs for and against war and the gun culture. For example, Bill Maher, a well-known artist, described the icon a “psychopath patriot,” attracting criticism from many such as Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and author of a book “Winning Back America”. Maher’s says Kyle’s patriotism has made him way too dangerous for opposite groups.

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