I saw Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” last night – already biggest grossing film since God knows when. It’s certainly a good film in the cinematic sense but it’s also about more sensitive cowboys in battle, hurt lockers and ‘evil savages’ on the ‘insurgents’ side. Yes, they’re still calling them insurgents. Insurging against what? The new world order? And what will be call the troublesome little men who rose up in the 1916 Rising when those commemorations come around? My point, in case I have lost the thread, is that Irish people generally think insurgency against empires is a good thing. Not this time, apparently.
The problem is the power of the movie compared with a very dubious interpretation of the material facts relating to the conflict. For example, I visited the Wikipedia page on Abu Musa al Zarqawi to check on the film’s facts and found it stated by an articulate American contributor that CIA documents now in the public domain clearly show at a) Hussein did not support Al-Q – or Zarqawi – both of whom abhorred his secular regime, and b) Zarqawi as a terrorist monster (including the decapitation videos) was probably an American propaganda stroke to deepen up the black-and-white shades in the grand narrative of righteous invasion in the Gulf. All of this fairly takes the wind out of the “get Zarqawi” plot – a plot that gives the film the same kind of forward drive as the hunt for Bin Laden – which, as you know, ended satisfactorily on President Obama’s watch.
I cannot offer any further judgement on the politics but I do know that the self-aggrandising “legend” of the sniper in the book has been turned into a beefy specimen of almost squirm-making decency in the film. This is “Deer Stalker” for slow learners. But the real Chris Kyle was so-constituted that the video-game “Call of Duty” raised his heart-beat more than combat kills. And when he pulled of a show-case kill on a pair of Arab target spotters on a moped in real life, he called the outcome ‘hilarious’, comparing the riders to Carrey and Daniels in “Dumber than Dumber” as they smacked into a wall – shot dead with one bullet.
The thing that makes Chris Kyle’s real feelings so difficult to express in the film – and which reveals its affinity to “Unforgiven” and “Gran Torino” – is that they’re so damn simple: he loves his country and he loves his wife but each is pulling in a different direction. As the reviewers have said, the marriage scenes are a tense with inarticulate energy as the battle scenes.
After the battle of Ramadi, the real Kyle has a bounty on his head – not surprisingly since his platoon patrolled the city with a death’s head insignia borrowed from “The Punisher” of comic-book fame – a source of inspiration that gets obliquely referenced in the movie – stencilled on their humvees. Their strategy was to invited mass attacks from which they emerged with enormous kill ratios to their advantage. But the duel between the American sniper and his Syrian opposite number – who is endowed with an Olympics medal in rifle-shooting – was added by Steven Spielberg when he took a hand in the shaping of the screen play.
You probably know how the film opens – just like the trailer – with a ten-year old boy and his mother porting a Russian grenade into action against American Marines. It proves to be the first of 160 confirmed kills for the most prolific sniper in military history. Well, you would pull the trigger too, wouldn’t you?
You probably also know that a ten-year-old girl was used by Boko Haram as a denotator for the explosion that killed 2,000 in Nigeria last week. Where to turn in all this mess? My only answer is to suggest that we stop calling the continually-morphing remants of the evicted Baath party, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and assorted nationalist formations in Iraq – ‘insurgents’, the way the Americans and the British do. Unless we mean to compare them with the leaders of the Easter Rising – which puts us in a bit of a fix. Leave the Provos out of this. The only time they attempted jihadi-type tactics was when they strapped a bomb to a hapless farmer at the Newry checkpoint (unless you count Omagh where the focus was on victims – never mind which side they’re supposed to be on.
19 January 2015