Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Power Of Silence - American Sniper

I worked from home - and the donut shop (film shoot) - during yesterday's Snow Day (Virginia Style, in which 1" of snow causes world-wide mayhem and havoc), and then I took my youngest son to the movies.

American Sniper was our choice, not without some serious contemplation and conversation. I knew it would be intense. My husband had some concerns about the level of violence, and whether or not it would be appropriate for the 15-year old.

Chris Kyle
After seeing some controversy about Chris Kyle regarding the truth behind his autobiography and his subsequent 'hero' status, I wondered if I might have to deflect some theatrical depiction of killing as exciting and rewarding.

In the end, I trusted my gut and we bought our tickets.

It was a horrific movie, in that it showed the horrific truth of war. Not the nuanced political stances that we see on the news and in print media. Not the 'battles' fought in Call of Duty. This film offered perspective on the act of taking lives in conflict, one that included a raw, vulnerable humanity - on both sides.

One particular scene resonates; a child of about four or five years stands 10 feet from an Iraqi insurgent about to fire on American troops. Chris Kyle shoots the soldier, and the child - unaware or inured to the death and violence right beside him - wanders over to the soldier, slumped on the sidewalk. The boy struggles to pick up the rocket launcher; he acts as if he will take over the fallen Iraqi's duty and fire on the Americans.

The suspense is agonizing - in the theater, and in the heart of the American sniper, as he whispers, "Don't you do it don't you do it don't you do it..."

In that moment, all the horror of war sunk down, hard, in the pit of my heart. The dissonance between evil and innocence, power and vulnerability. The desperate nature of the dichotomy within us all.

I will not enter into the discussion of whether or not Chris Kyle should be called a hero. He was a solider, and he died too soon, and none of us will ever know his heart. In our media-saturated culture, there's little that can't be co-opted by one side or another to advance a political cause. I refuse to play that game. American Sniper - the movie - is not about politics; it's about the terrible, awful truth of war and the real power of our humanity. It is a brilliant, beautiful, raw, well-crafted story.

It's a sad movie. I wept, several times.

I've seen several comments about the fact that at the end, the theater was silent. "You could have heard a pin drop," was on several Facebook statuses. I anticipated that moment and was a little surprised at how true it was - and why.

There is no closing music. The credits run in silence.

Silence is powerful. Rather than crowd our ears with some distraction, we are forced to either be present in the moment - listening to the older couple as they struggle to worm their arms into their coats, as she says to him, "Yes, honey, it was true. It happened in 2013;" or sit with the power of what we just witnessed.

A story of the ravages of war, of the terrible, desperate things we do to one another.

In the silence, it becomes very difficult to articulate the reasons why.


Pilgrim Soul said...

I'm glad it was silent. I've heard other reports of people cheering when the "bad guy" gets killed. I'm not sure I'll see this in the theatre, both because of the power of the story (I like to process stories like that a bit more privately), and because I ALSO am dubious of the potential "hero worship" in the film.

I'm constantly aware of the fact that our country has been AT WAR now for over a decade. In the same that PTSD can affect an individual, I wonder about the effects of this perpetual violence has on our culture. I'm convinced that we've become (or are BECOMING) immune to it.

Great piece.

Bob Frick said...

Nicely written. I take the stand of him being a hero. He saved many American lives during his multiple tours of duty. It makes more sense to those of us who walked in same powdery sand, that both hell and heaven seemed to have forgotten. To us, the meaning runs deeper and truer.

David Stocker said...

I wish everyone was as reflective as you. Sadly, I know from social media, news media, and the general fanfare around the release of the film that many (most?) moviegoers are not.

annie said...

Very nicely written. I have not seen it yet, but I think I want to. I was a teenager in the midst of the Vietnam war. I remember being so unsettled by all the news reports of the war and the protests.