A few weeks back I told you that I was going to try to see all eight of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars. But that ain’t gonna happen.
With a couple films I was just too late – Boyhood and The Theory of Everything look like they’re already fading from theaters near me. Just as well for Boyhood – I’ve heard good things about it, and the filming technique is impressive, but it kind of feels like some strange form of fanfiction version of the 7-Up documentary films. And as for Whiplash – I was pleasantly surprised to see it got nominated, and I like J.K. Simmons a lot. But – I went to an arts program in college, and while none of my teachers were anywhere near as cruel as his character is, when I was a much more sensitive miss of nineteen, it felt like they were, so I suspect that Whiplash would probably send me under the theater seats in a fetal position within the first 20 minutes.
…And then there is American Sniper.
I really, really didn’t want to see this one. I’ve been really conflicted about seeing any of the films that deal with the Iraq/Afghanistan/War On Terror conflict – even Zero Dark Thirty, which had a pretty finely-tuned focus and was pretty unflinching about the bad side of the CIA’s behavior, had me uneasy. But the past thirteen years (God, has it really been that many?) have made me really averse to any kind of jingoism and compulsory patriotism – and that’s exactly what I’m afraid I’d feel here. I want to go to the movie to see a movie, not propaganda.
And I know that that’s not the point of the film. Clint Eastwood has said that the film is really about “what war does to the people left behind”, and Bradley Cooper has said that the film was more about the government’s neglect of returning veterans and has said that people who have a problem should “redirect their attention to the leaders who put them there in the first place.” But that’s precisely it – I have been speaking to the leaders who put these soldiers there, and have been doing so since October of 2001. It’s just that back then, the leaders ignored me, and everyone else standing around me told me I was “un-American” or that I “wasn’t supporting the troops”. These men were going to war for me, didn’t I know that? My city had been attacked, and these men were rushing in to defend me. I should feel grateful.
But I never asked them to. Only three days after the attacks, I told a friend that the profusion of people waving flags had me uneasy “because it’s usually only a matter of time before people waving flags start waving flags at someone”. And sure enough, within only a few months we were sending people over to Afghanistan, with only the vaguest idea of what to do, and a couple years after that we sent people to Iraq on completely trumped-up pretense. And those of us who tried to object – those of us who tried to persuade the leaders sending them there that no, we didn’t want this – were shouted down and told to be quiet and accused of being unsupportive, and the rest of the country turned up the war movies and the country songs and waved the flags and yellow ribbon car magnets at us, and people like Chris Kyle ended up getting their lives destroyed as a result – and over and over people were telling me that he was acting in my name and I kept saying but no, I never wanted you to do this in the first place, and nobody listened.
So no, despite what Clint Eastwood claims, American Sniper doesn’t feel like an anti-war movie to me – it feels like yet another lecture about how I should be grateful that I received something I never asked for in the first place and have been trying to give back for over a decade now.
…then again, maybe I should break into a theater showing it this weekend and figure out if there’s a way I can splice some Tom Waits in between reels. Maybe that’d finally get me heard.