With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.
Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.
First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.
Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.
It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.
Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,
“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.
Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.
And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.
The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.
Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.
Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.
How does this apply to American Sniper?
In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.
What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.
Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,
“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”
He went on.
“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”
Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,
“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”
The biggest surprise of the movie
It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.
Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.
To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.
It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.
American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.
The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.