Tonight, I went and saw American Sniper with my family. I usually go to the theater about half an hour early so that I can get in and get a decent seat, and It works pretty well in practice. Popular movies these days manage to hold better than eighty percent seating capacity for a couple of weeks before dropping off significantly. As I have gotten older, I have acquired the virtue of patience and am willing to wait a couple of weeks so that the crowds are not as large. I wasn’t quite sure if this would play out for this movie, so now, about three weeks after its release, I felt this was as good a time as any. There were eight showings for the entire day and I chose the second to the last.
When we first got there, the LED display on the theater was showing the start of the movie time for the tickets I bought, so we went in. Once inside, I noticed the movie was just finishing for the previous showing, so we went back out and waited. A couple of minutes went by before the patrons started filing out indicating it was over. It was a rather large crowd and mostly somber. Some looked liked they had been crying.
After what appeared to be the last of the crowd coming out, we waited another few minutes, watching to see if the cleaning crew were going to go in. A short time later, with no sightings of any cleanup crew, a couple walked into the theater. If people are starting to walk in, I at least wanted to get my seat, so I told the family it was time to go in. Once inside and seated, I made the obligatory check in via Facebook and, per standard operating procedure, I stated in the status itself that Barry Manilow was going on one final tour. It was something I had seen in the ads they play while waiting for the movie previews.
As a side note, I never discuss politics or current events on Facebook. It’s a policy that ensures heated fights don’t break out in one of my threads. I’ve watched with some disappointment that those with strong political opinions seem to drag down discussion into worthless and unnecessary personal attacks, and often results in hurt feelings along with friendships being lost. Why can’t we all just get along?
As I am conversing with my family and on Facebook, I notice that cleaning crew comes in and hurriedly cleans. It was fifteen minutes to show time so they moved quite quickly. Shortly after they finish, groups of people start walking in and taking seats. It dawns on me that this movie still has great appeal. I have no idea how many are repeat watchers, but I’m pretty sure the number is small.
After listening intently to the background, I don’t hear anyone talk about the movie as if they’ve seen it, nor do I hear anyone say anything that would make me think there are in here for at least a second time. By the time the previews begin, still more are coming in. I would say the capacity is about three quarters. Even a few more come in during the previews.
Now I won’t go into much about the plot here because I’m not interested in doing a detailed review about the movie. I have watched a number of movies that cast Bradley Cooper and I consider him to be a dedicated and competent actor. Same goes for Sienna Miller. What I saw, however, was far above that. He was very believable as a young man who came from a strong values family, with a sense of duty and purpose, and a good dose of American cowboy from Texas. Sienna plays Taya, Chris’ wife, and she accurately portrays the role of a military wife who struggles with the man that she loves, sees him being torn apart and not knowing how to help, but nonetheless sticking by him, all the while trying to live up to the dream her husband has for them as a family.
Having served in the military, I have watched many families deal with the strain of military life, including my own. It’s not, nor has it ever been easy. Even with families having to deal with loved ones not going to combat, the toll can be great when your spouse is called to duty for deployments that may last six months or more. Sometimes, they may go for two months, get home for two weeks, and repeat for a year or perhaps two. Add in the possibility of going to a combat zone for up to eighteen months, and you can understand the life that many have to endure, as witnessed within the movie.
Families assume a far greater burden that what is often shown from real life. Military families have a bond with each other that transcends continents. You get two women who are married to servicemen to meet up. One is a Navy wife, the other an Army wife. They could sit in a room together, and share experiences within a few minutes and develop a lifelong bond. And in some instances, their spouses may actually never meet until they have left the service. This is something I have witnessed on numerous occasions.
Military spouses have to literally manage their lives as a family with one member absent a great deal of time. It is even greater when there are combat deployments, especially for multiple tours, just like those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are times when the spouse has to change a tire while taking kids to a baseball game, or perhaps work a couple of jobs because the pay system got screwed up and there is no pay while the system tries to work itself out. When the serviceman finally returns, the struggle to bring it all back to whatever “normal” is, becomes an even added burden. For those families whose loved one pays the ultimate price, the agony of trying to build a new life can become unbearable. Some survive, others go through years of pain. There are also families who are broken up during deployments due to spouses who can’t deal with a loved one gone for so long, or from human failings and infidelity. Its not unique to the military, but its just as real.
The point of this movie was to bring to light the human side of a man who had a strong and powerful duty to himself, his country, his faith and his family. These are very honorable, quality, and powerful traits for any man or woman. The idea of being able to help your country, make a family, and be true to your faith in the face of the atrocities of war can have a powerful impact. And for Chris Kyle, the struggle of being a hero to many who felt a duty to protect.
From my perspective, this movie captured the essence of his struggle: Duty to ones principles of himself, his family, and his country, and the hardships that come with trying to satisfy all of them. He held life and death in his hands, something he didn’t take lightly. He rationalized his actions for the sake of his men when it came time to make those decisions, even when he’d hoped the situation would be different. He watched his brothers die, as well as those he swore to protect. He struggled with the very things a man with his convictions would face. In the end, he was able to finally overcome the demons that were tearing him apart and to learn to cope, which would ultimately help save himself and his family. The man who rode into Tara’s life at a chance meeting in a bar, would be that man again.
In the end, his ability and duty to help his fellow veteran, which became his calling, would end up costing the life of a great man. His story, due thankfully to the careful work of Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood, will endure to show others the plight of the combat soldier and the wounds that are part of the job, wounds that go far beyond the man himself. In the small window to the world of Chris Kyle, this was shown in high definition and it was done with compassion and reverence. To say I was not moved would be a lie. I was the last one out of the theater.
We ask so much of those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect and defend our country with their very being and their souls, while hoping to live a long life of the American dream. While we glorify the work of hero’s such a Chris Kyle, we never see the struggles these men, who refuse to call themselves hero’s, suffer while just “doing their job.”
We can argue about the policies of a nation that create people like Chris Kyle, but that would be a disservice to him. Even in wars that are considered “justified”, history is full of men and women who go to defend the great honor of their country, only to return wounded in ways beyond the physical and the struggles they must endure to find their place again. As a nation, we recognize the sacrifices of our brave warriors, and at the same time, need to look beyond the uniform, to the minds of those who serve and to the well being of their families both during and after. We must accept the responsibility, regardless of the policies, to take care of our own.
If this movie were to project anything politically it would be there are tens of thousands of veterans who need our help both personally, and as a nation, to help heal as much of the wounds as we can. Some will never be fully healed. Others will go on to do great things beyond their pain and suffering and continue to serve in one capacity or another. What is important is to follow the creed, “Leave no man behind” and it certainly applies to those who return, especially for their spirit and their mind. These brave souls have done their duty. Honoring them needs to be more than lip service. It must also be in the form of actions to help them and their families to live as normal a life as possible.
To those who criticize the movie for not going far enough to condemn the policies of President Bush, that it should have focused more on the “lies” for war, you have disappointingly missed the entire point, and not surprisingly, showed your true motives. You show no compassion for the real story nor for the soldiers that go to war. You may stand up and tell me I’m wrong, or make the specious argument that had we not gone to war, there would be no Chris Kyle’s. Those are the words of the pacifists, the short sighted, and of the coward. War is horrible. I don’t know anyone who wants to go to war. The fact is, our country is constantly under threat, and to ignore that threat, no matter how much you think ignoring it will make it go away, is ignorant of history and dangerous of precedent. It will always be inevitable so long as corrupt people have positions of power. There may be corrupt people leading our country, but thankfully, their tenure is short, unlike the tyrannical despots that want to destroy us.
What you fail to understand is that we will be going to war and probably sooner than you realize. The job in Iraq and Afghanistan were not completed successfully, despite the assurances of the current administration, and a bigger threat has now emerged. The shortsightedness of this administration means the next one will most likely go to war to stop the menace that he has no resolve to address due of his desire to uphold political correctness and his own narcissist legacy above all else. And when we do, we will need all the Chris Kyle’s and those of his kind we can get to save us once again. Only this time, I’m hopeful we will have learned our lessons to finish the job, and then take care of the souls of those who come back and their families.