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Clint Eastwood's comfort zone, in "American Sniper"


Clint Eastwood feels comfortable when men can rule the public sphere and women can be ushered into the domestic. He feels that the idea of male authority is so vulnerable right now, deemed so deservedly vulnerable, that if you pointed to any instance of it with praise carelessly, you might find yourself linked to something just about to be devoured into a hole where devil jezebels will take it to pieces for its rape-enabling vibe. So he makes a film set in the era of the 1950s—"Jersey Boys”—where ostensibly it's not "your" preference but just realistic to delineate the journey of a band where everyone in authority is a man, and where its not your revenge dream come true but just realistic to show the fate of the agitated woman who marries the leader of the band to become a housewife who bounces of walls into craziness. And when he makes his next film, he escapes North America entirely, and goes perhaps to the one place where we can make male control not seem a conscious artifice but rather presumed—where one's enjoyment of patriarchy becomes almost a subliminal satisfaction, outside of critique because like the 1950s, it's just the way the world is—and where ready avenue exists to back off female complaint and indeed shame women back into the role of supplicants. He heads off for war-zone Iraq.

Eastwood doesn't want to seem like outcast-from-Hollywood-society Mel Gibson, which he would have if he made a film which overtly made it seem as if the war in Iraq was right and that those who responded by signing up were simply the bravest, most loyal of Americans. So what he does is appear to be playing to the liberal belief that those who signed up were simply ignorant, uninformed—good but simple: they were people who knew no other than mainstream news and who'd been indoctrinated into a belief system that the best way to carry out their genuine intention to be good was to be support the war effort. Liberals, who usually want to castigate "rednecks," disarm this way of thinking of them and switch into another when one provokes the idea of corporate/media control. Then suddenly they're not people who deserve to be shamed and insulted for their regressive mindsets but rather protected ... they're just simple people being manipulated by powers much greater than they, whom liberals must do their best to educate. Chris Kyle, who's been raised to be someone who values being a "sheepdog," someone who protects the weak, who knows he has a god-given talent with a gun, and who understands participation as only something done in the dust-swirling tempest of immediacy and direct action, sees on tv the two towers being brought down and knows the right thing to do is to go where-ever "savage-hiding" desert his nation tells him people responsible for this atrocity can be found. And in the course of serving, he will incur PTSD, an affliction liberals like to think of as making these naive, uneducated men damaged, ruined ... as used and cast-aside by a corporate society that pretends faith with them but really doesn't give one damn. 

Eastwood has his way into making a film assuming a reasonably 'cross-Hollywood sympathetic approach to Kyle, and he uses this proxy to re-experience a good part of what was comfortable for him about the 1950s. No where in this environment is there any family which isn't clearly under the dominion of men. A woman and a child come into Kyle's sights as possibly carrying explosive devices, but we were shown their being sent there first by a man from his cellphone. A woman presents her wounds to Kyle to show the degree of savagery of "the butcher," but she was ushered to by her husband, who more or less snapped his fingers to acquire her summons. Kyle notices that a man they're dining with has bruised elbows—and therefore is likely not the civilian he claims to be but a soldier—but the fact of his being at the head of the table, with his son by his side, and with his wife, barely a presence, quietly taking away and bringing dishes, is meant to be outside our critical appraisal, like it would be if we were of the 1950s and were in the 1950s. 

Kyle is very hardworking and genuinely shown to be, if not keeping civilization intact, certainly doing good work—killing brutal men who'd drill holes in children and the like—and Eastwood makes PTSD serve merely what hardworking 50s men were ostensibly afflicted with after their arduous daily grind, battling other men in a competitive society and keeping their families afloat. 1950s men could not help but "bring work home" too ... and that's why social norms had it that the wives' full-time occupation once their husbands were home was to nurse them: not to confront them with the problems arising from their own day but bring them drinks, serve them dinner, soothe them down and spoil them—then, and only then, would the daily toil accrued from the outside world be met and matched. If a wife instead started screeching, berating her overworked husband and betraying the role society needed of her, she could expect to be shamed for it ... just like Kyle's wife would be shamed, if on the phone to Kyle she started harping on what his being away was doing to her and he responded, "What was that dear? ... I couldn't hear you for my jeep turning over and my buddy just being shot through the head."  

Eastwood embraces the idea of PTSD only because it can suggest stature rather than weakness. If you have a heavier case of it, it's surely because you've been out on the field longer, endured more of an unsparing environment ... a frail-looking, elder therapist notes that Kyle has had 180 kills, and you wonder if he's thinking more on how to treat him or how to become the faintest shadow of him. One of Kyle's good friends, the fellow sniper Mark Lee, remarks that war is something like kids proving themselves by seeing how long they can hold on to an electric wire, but when he dies shortly afterwards it does seem to be out of Kyle's supposition that he was no longer ready to meet the daily grind. He's disillusioned, but the film provides no reason for it: there are plenty of very bad guys out there, and if you're not at your best, good men on your side will die for it.

In short, Mark Lee makes it seem as if being a soldier is like being a salesman out of "Death of a Salesman," you just go on to prove you're strong when what you are really are is being depleted, to no point, while no one else out there cares. Kyle's retort is what a buoyed 1950s salesman would winningly reply to this 1930s—"Death of a Salesman" is about someone working in the Great Depression—world view: "What on earth are you talking about? We keep at it because we're needed and it's our job. It's just that simple." 


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