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American Sniper is About Frustration

Anyone who thinks American Sniper justifies rage and vengeance hasn’t seen the movie. Anybody who thinks American Sniper is a simple God, country, family movie oozing patriotism and virtue hasn’t seen the movie.

American Sniper is about frustration. Everybody except the Kyle children live lives of frustration just east of, but unable to enter, contentment.

This movie is about the ultimate futility of war and the broken humanity of the warriors. In the film, nobody who is touched by the war is better off because of it. Not Kyle, his wife, his brother, his buddies, the servicemen at the Veterans Administration hospital. When I finished watching it, I thought of the John Paul II’s statement that “war always speaks the failure of humanity.” Yes, there are just wars and just actions within war but war is a result of human failure, sin. Catholics are called to be peacemakers. Sometimes that will require protecting the innocent through the use of lethal force. It is always tragic. We must guard against the temptation that promises solutions to enduring human problems through violence. The problems don’t get solved. They get pushed to another venue to be resolved later.

Nobody watching this movie confuses the glory and honor of battle with high-minded celebrations or the frivolous joy that accompanies your favorite teams whipping of your state rival. Glory, in the biblical sense, has nothing to do with the giddy froth of triumphalism. “Glory”, in this sense, must mean, as it does in the Old and New Testaments, weightiness, the moral significance of war. Like marriage, it is not to be entered into lightly. Marriage brings life. It is, dramatically speaking, a comedy. War brings death. It is, dramatically, a tragedy. Both require the turning over of our humanity to be transformed for good or ill by the experience, the story.

I believe this is the most believable and honest anti-war movies I’ve seen. It is about the human drama inside the warrior, not the justification of war. The heroism of Chris Kyle is never wallowed in. Nor is it regarded as an unalloyed good. He’s got “issues” as they say. He’s had “issues” all his life. He knows this and this keeps him from basking in the glitter of his “heroism.” He’s just doing his job. He’s just protecting his fellow soldiers rather than exporting high-minded principles. There are no lofty speeches about freedom or human dignity. The bad guys are savages but we aren’t too far removed from them.

God’s plan and sense of personal calling well established at the beginning of the movie runs silently and deeply throughout. In the end, however, Chris Kyle acts as though he is driven rather than called. He imagines he can protect every soldier out there and that is what eventually kills him in the end.


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