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american sniper: a conservative movie that is more than a conservative movie

When American Sniper was released, there was a lot of debate about the message of the film. Here is my view. American Sniper is definitely a conservative film, but it is a conservative film that situates itself in a larger conversation.

So what counts as a “conservative film?” There are lots of ways you could approach this, but here is one way. A film is conservative if the plot and treatment of subject matter reflects an important strain of conservative social thought and sentiment. For American Sniper, it is very obvious. The entire film is about a solider who is dedicated to the concept of service. At times, it means serving his country. At other times, it means serving his fellow soldiers. Even after he returns from Iraq, he spends his time with veterans who has disabilities and injuries. Another theme, more subtly stated, is that the service is done with integrity and honor. At no point in the film, is there any sense of exploitation or critique of military service.

For a lot of people, that is enough, but there is more to the film that qualifies the major point. For example, at least two scenes have fellow soldiers openly critique the Iraq mission. One is more direct and simply asks if it is worth it. A second scene has Chris Kyle reunite with a friend who is simply tired of it all: “Fuck Iraq.” An even more profound critique comes from the portrayal of the spouse who must raise their children by herself as he goes through four (!) tours of duty. In the middle of the film, she challenges him about his absence. In the final stages of the film, he shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the end, he is murdered by another veteran.

American Sniper is by no means an antiwar film. But it is a smart film that, however briefly, acknowledges that war is hell and its cost is high. It is also a film that hints at the savagery of it all, as it shows children being maimed. Even Kyle’s arch-enemy in battle is shown to have a family that deserves our sympathy. In the future, I hope that more films will probe the Iraq War in new and interesting ways.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 28, 2015 at 12:01 am

6 Responses

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  1. As an Iraqi (and a Palestinian) but also as a historical sociologist, the film reinforces something that is a constant theme in American media: Arabs have less than human status. The value of an Arab life is in no way comparable to the value of an American life.

    This might seem like an unimportant take away from the film, but I think that it is an essential component for making it work. Moreover, in American Sniper, it almost seems to be a tangential or unimportant aside that the Americans are an invading force and that the Iraqis had every right to defend themselves.

    When I hear folks talk about how heroic the protagonist of the film is, I just get sick to my stomach.

    This probably doesn’t mean much to my fellow sociologists, but I needed a place to vent: the movie made me sick.

    Liked by 1 person

    Wisam

    May 28, 2015 at 6:39 am

  2. Wisam: I agree with your point overall, but Inspect the movie more carefully. There are multiple points where the “enemy has no value” narrative breaks down. For example, the scene where the sniper pulls back from killing a small child at the end of the movie. There are other points earlier where the main character, or other supporting characters, raise doubt about killing others. Fleeting moments, surely, but important counterpoints to the main narrative.

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    fabiorojas

    May 28, 2015 at 5:52 pm

  3. Fabio, on the point of the sniper not shooting the child: I read it as following the age old trope of the dominator having more “humanity” than the barbarian who is willing to sacrifice a child…

    Maybe I just don’t see the nuance or dimensionality in it that you do.

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    Wisam

    May 28, 2015 at 6:09 pm

  4. That is certainly a plausible, but the film is extremely introverted. All exists in terms of the sniper’s first person perspective. So your frame makes sense, but others are possible. Remember that in that scene, no one sends the child (unlike the opening scene). The kid just picks up the rocket. That is why he waits and waits, which is different than the intro scene.

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    fabiorojas

    May 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm

  5. I view the movie as a typically one dimensional war film with little red flags around it. For example, normally in war films, the antiwar view is often depicted by protesters. The antiwar view only appears in the comments of veterans. Since the movie is so intense, it is easy to overlook all these details.

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    fabiorojas

    May 28, 2015 at 6:21 pm

  6. It’s also possible that my ethnic ties to Iraq kind of cloud my judgment of the film.

    Liked by 1 person

    Wisam

    May 28, 2015 at 7:11 pm


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