Looking Elsewhere: Starring… American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Sundance, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Fairy Tales, Global Warming, Bob Dylan, Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Marilynne Robinson, and More

American-Sniper-Movie-PosterI’ll conclude with a few words about the American Sniper hubbub.

But first, here are some of the things that caught my attention on the Wild Wild Web in the last couple of weeks…

FILM

LITERATURE

  • Alex Malarkey: “I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.” Well, it certainly made your publisher a lot of money, Alex. And now it has thrown fuel on the fires of cynicism about the idea of heaven for people who were already skeptics.
  • Artur Rosman interviews Gregory Wolfe, and it’s great.
  • Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing “Coleridge on the Reading of Fairy Tales.”

CREATION

SPORTS

MUSIC

NOW… ABOUT AMERICAN SNIPER

Last week, I saw people making comments on Twitter that implied Selma is a movie for liberals and American Sniper is a movie for conservatives.

That made me sad: Why spoil works of art by reducing them to partisan politics, when there is so much in both films for everyone to enjoy, admire, examine, and discuss?

Then I came across this, from Marilynne Robinson’s “Imagination and Community”:

When definitions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ begin to contract, there seems to be no limit to how narrow these definitions can become. As they shrink and narrow, they are increasingly inflamed, more dangerous and inhumane. They present themselves as movements toward truer and purer community, but, as I have said, they are the destruction of community. They insist that the imagination must stay within the boundaries they establish for it, that sympathy and identification are only allowable within certain limits. I am convinced that the broadest possible exercise of imagination is the thing most conducive to human health, individual and global.

[emphasis mine]

Read that quotation again.

Then consider these quotes from Chris Kyle, the “hero” of American Sniper:

On being a sniper:

“You do it until there’s no one left to kill. That’s what war is. I loved what I did… I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.”

“I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone? Now I know. It’s no big deal.”

“There’s another question people ask a lot: Did it bother you killing so many people in Iraq? I tell them ‘No.’ And I mean it.”

On the moral ambiguity:

“I have a strong sense of justice. It’s pretty much black-and-white. I don’t see too much gray.”

Now consider the reaction that many are having to the film.

Personally, I would be cautious to take as gospel anything said about moral ambiguity by someone who suffered a lot of PTSD.

And the actor who played Chris Kyle says that the film was not meant to express political support for, or criticism of, the Iraq War. It was supposed to be a movie about the damage that our veterans have suffered, and how we need to take care of them.

Cooper:

If it’s not this movie, I hope to god another movie will come out where it will shed light on the fact of what servicemen and women have to go through, and that we need to pay attention to our vets. It doesn’t go any farther than that. It’s not a political discussion about war, even…It’s a discussion about the reality. And the reality is that people are coming home, and we have to take care of them.

Maybe if we heeded Robinson’s words — which are actually a translation of the Gospel message regarding how Jesus calls us to open our arms to people of different cultures, classes, vocations, and genders — we would help break the cycle of violence in the world. It could begin by referring to our “enemies” (and yes, even those who might provoke the term “savages”) as our “neighbors,” and learning how to pray for them and desire God’s mercy on them (as Jesus did), instead of fooling ourselves into believing that gunning them down will advance God’s kingdom in the world.

P.S. My friend Lindsay Marshall linked to this article , and noted:

It seems to me the heart of the problem is when believers (of any kind, religious and otherwise) expect art to serve as their echo chamber. They look to it to confirm their opinions rather than as a vehicle for exploring others’ experiences. We rob ourselves of a rich opportunity to build empathy and deepen our understanding of Truth when we do that.

But heck, if we’re just going to use film to confirm our beliefs, let’s at least get it right and pick the film with a main character whose values actually line up with the teachings of Christ.

 

 

 

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rebeccaflorencemiller Rebecca Florence Miller

    Jeffrey, how do you feel about the mere artistic value of AMERICAN SNIPER? I’m not even gonna dip my toe in the political debate. But I went to the film with an open mind and heart and just artistically, I was disappointed. I felt like it needed at least six more months to marinate. It felt choppy, not well-acted mostly (with a few exceptional scenes though), and to be honest, I felt like I was watching a Christian movie (with all the surface-level stuff that implies) at times. I’m open to hearing Kyle’s experiences and empathizing with what he went through as a soldier and what he thought and his view of the world and everything. There’s places I agree…places I don’t…and a strong realization that I haven’t been in his shoes. But artistically, I felt like the film was a mess. Am I out in left field here? Everyone says they loved it. I really tried to.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Rebecca,

      So far I have only been responding to the exploitation of the movie’s existence by people who want to advance their own agenda pro- or anti-war, and who are using it to label and condemn others. Great films, mediocre films, and bad films… they all get exploited and used as weapons from time to time.

      I still haven’t seen the film itself. It alarms me that it is being used as an excuse to spew hatred… but the same thing happened with “The Passion of the Christ” and “Natural Born Killers,” both of which have a lot of integrity in themselves.

      When I do see the movie (and I’m going to wait until the controversy dissipates so that I can try to go in and see it with clear eyes, undistracted), I’ll let you know.

      For what it’s worth, I just ran into my favorite college professor, whose opinion I greatly respect. And he said in passing, “By the way, I saw ‘American Sniper.’ I’ll get to the point. I thought it really sucked.'” That’s interesting, since he’s been an Eastwood fan in the past.

      For what that’s worth.

      And by the way, thanks for asking about the film’s artistry. That’s a refreshing change. If I have to read any more opinions about Chris Kyle = Monster or Chris Kyle = Christian Hero, I’m going to be sick.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rebeccaflorencemiller Rebecca Florence Miller

        Thanks for the response, Jeffrey. And thanks for being a writer who had a HUGE amount to do with helping me step back and see a bigger picture view of films. You really changed how I look at them!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Jeffrey, I’m afraid you’ve been reading a lot of quotes from Kyle that got ripped out of context. I suggest watching longer interviews with the man himself to get a better idea of him and his character. In particular, watch how Bill O’Reilly tries to press him into making blanket statements precisely like the ones you accuse him of—saying the entire civilization of Iraq are “savages,” for instance—and watch him keep correcting O’Reilly. He clarifies that he’s not saying all Iraqis are savages or anything extreme like that, he’s making a specific point about the evil he witnessed and the bad guys he killed. In fact, he tried whenever possible to protect civilian Iraqis from evil militants. That’s why in his book he says he hates the “savages” that he was FIGHTING. And when O’Reilly asks Kyle whether he took pleasure in killing for killing’s own sake, Kyle keeps bringing it back to the question of whether it’s morally questionable to take out soldiers preparing to kill your brothers in arms. He concluded that it’s “not a problem,” and this is what he means when he says it’s “no big deal.” He means it’s not something he believes must be a burden on his conscience. It’s not something he worries that he’ll have to answer to God for. However, he does make it clear in his book that he will have to answer to God for a great many other sins. He says in so many words that he believes putting his trust in Jesus Christ will be his salvation on that day.

    Too bad they couldn’t put that in the movie.