This weekend, “American Sniper” came out and social media exploded after some Islamophobic tweets were posted in reaction to the film. I had a knee-jerk reaction and posted tweets condemning the film– without seeing it. For the record, the moment I saw the tweets, I scrolled through hundreds of #AmericanSniper tweets and found nothing Islamophobic or racist. I’m not the only one who responded too quickly; other publications dared publish thinkpieces (if they can even be called such) in which the author admits they have not seen the film. The Tempest’s own Aurora Walchak wrote a piece about the film, but did not clarify if she had seen the film or not. Therefore, I decided to watch the film before expressing any further opinions on it, and oh boy is everyone (on all ends of the debate) wrong.
The controversy seems to have stemmed from those four tweets, which by the end of the day had been shared by everyone and their mothers. Quickly, dialogue about the film became dichotomized between “It’s Islamophobic, so I hate this film” and “If you hate this film, you hate America.” Both sides are extreme, misinformed, and wrong.
[bctt tweet=”The controversy seems to have stemmed from those four tweets.” username=”wearethetempest”]
From the direction to the cinematography, the film in itself (as Eastwood’s films usually are) is fantastic. Story-wise, like so many of Eastwood’s other films, “American Sniper” tackles the hefty topic of the ends justifying the means. Indeed, “Sniper” balances out its brutally-depicted killings with questions of moral ambiguity– a trait that is to be expected in any film by the director.
In this situation, we cannot separate the art from the artist. Yes, Clint Eastwood is a Republican, a title that immediately elicits an image of a gun-toting, flag-waving hick out in the American Midwest. But he is far more than that: he is a pro-gun control, environmentally conscious, pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Republican. Eastwood has never been easy to dissect, and it’s unfair to see his excellent, equally-as-complex film unnecessarily pigeonholed into one of two boxes.
[bctt tweet=”In this situation, we cannot separate the art from the artist. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
Again, protests against the static portrayal of Arabs versus the supposedly complex, multidimensional white soldier arise. Let it be clear that Arabs are not a foil or catalyst in “protagonist” (note the quotation marks) Chris Kyle’s development because there is hardly any character development at all. Apart from a brief scene where he first meets his wife, Kyle’s character doesn’t extend beyond anything more than a sniper who is propelled by an almost blinding desire to protect. Ultimately, Kyle is a vehicle that Eastwood uses to cast moral dilemmas upon the audience. Throughout the film, we don’t wonder “What’s he going to do now?” but rather, “What would I do in this situation?” We are confronted head-on by difficult choices that intensify the trauma and stress that affect Kyle each time he returns home.
[bctt tweet=”So go ahead, make your stale talking-to-an-empty-chair jokes.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Inevitably, someone will bring up the real Chris Kyle and the pseudo-heroism in American Sniper. Yes, the real Kyle’s memoirs indicate he was a dishonest sociopath who truly enjoyed killing foreigners. However, Eastwood sacrifices the whole truth to craft a magnificently told story about war. Chris Kyle is not portrayed as an American hero, nor a gleeful killer: he is a man who was called to duty, and it’s often hinted that he might not even be aware of his own fervor. Even the soundtrack is sparse, emphasizing the reverberation of gunshots. “American Sniper” is not about good guys versus bad guys, Americans versus Muslims, or even the journey of its main subject. It’s a film about the atrocity of war– on both sides. No one can dispute the horrors demonstrated in the film, horrors that have cropped up in Eastwood’s other films about war. As a director, Eastwood respects his audience far too much to feed us propaganda. That’s not his style. Both sides are traumatized by what they experience, which Eastwood weaves into a harsh, honest depiction of war, which several other war films too often simplify.
Don’t go into “American Sniper” expecting to pick a side. “Sniper” is layered, complex, and thought-provoking. It is tough, unapologetically brutal, and at times, moving. I sympathized with the Arabs. I sympathized with the Americans. I felt for every man or woman who is placed in war situations and must return carrying the burden of battle. There are traces of patriotism, of course, but it isn’t at the level of (the actually racist) “Lone Survivor”. This is a complex examination of war culture. Much of the social media controversy comes from the same screencap of four tweets and high schoolers who successfully snuck into into an R-rated movie.
So go ahead, make your stale talking-to-an-empty-chair jokes. Let four random dickheads’ racist tweets stop you from experiencing great art. Let uninformed pundits shape your opinions. At the end of the day, “American Sniper” is an intricate portrait of war veterans, painted by a serious filmmaker who is as multidimensional as his filmography. Put it to rest, there isn’t anything seriously harmful about it. Causing an uproar over one jpeg and a handful of shitty op-eds is almost as ridiculous as the fake baby in the film. Seriously, can we talk about the fake baby?