National egotism and propaganda

Photo by Keith Bernstein - © 2014 - Warner Bros. Entertainment

‘American Sniper’is an encapsulating project rooted in pride

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 27, 2015

When Seth Rogen and Michael Moore voiced their opinion on American Sniper—the number one movie in January with over $100-million in box office over the long weekend—it was targeted at the machine that was America.

Rogen, accustomed to controversies, compared the highly acclaimed film to the third act of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. One may remember the scene in which Hitler and his posse sat in a theatre, watching a movie with a sniper on higher ground taking out Allied soldiers. He said it without saying it; Rogen was pretty much comparing Clint Eastwood to Leni Riefenstahl and the American public to animals akin to Nazis.

Moore, the director of Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, added in a tweet: “Only a coward will shoot someone who can’t shoot back.” A Japanese sniper killed Moore’s uncle almost 70 years ago.

The story of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, was a haunting one. Were we watching a film about a national hero or an international murderer? Either way, I believe it’s an honest war movie.

Of course, movies with a patriotic undertone have been a popular genre in cinematic catalogues since the existence of filmmaking. The original purpose of motion pictures was not just to entertain but also to persuade. How is American Sniper any different from the rallying war and disaster movies that made regular civilians feel empowered?

The criticisms aren’t directed at the performance or the movie itself, but the encompassing scenarios. Why is America hell-bent on murder, enough so to transform a normal man into such a weapon? What does it say about the current system of politics and recovery? How are we helping those transitioning from normal life to a life of war and then back again?

Although I agree with Rogen that the movie comes across as enemy-murder porn, and I understand where Moore is coming from, saying that heroes don’t gun down people from a hiding spot, I don’t believe that the movie is anything more than a reflection on the way we ourselves react to war.

Honestly, I enjoy movies that focus not just on the event, but also on the repercussions. I want to see the brutality of it. I want to see the broken relationships and the torturous anguish. I don’t want to see it glamourized like in many action movies. I want to watch a war movie and feel fortunate that there are those participating in such duties. And then I want to feel disappointed that I live in a world where we require people to participate, to enrol, to risk their lives, and to end the lives of others.

American Sniper, like many other Hollywood-produced war movies, has a clear identification of the enemy, but know this: not everything in movies is real. In fact, none of it is—they’re movies.

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