<i>American Sniper</i> Dials in on the Reality of War

The hardest battles are not fault in the streets of Iraq or in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, but instead they are fought far from the front line back on the homefront.
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Now almost a week removed from its release date, American Sniper has sparked controversy that has all but surpassed its record-breaking box office earnings. American Sniper marks the biggest January weekend ever -- and the second highest R-rated debut behind The Matrix Reloaded at $91.7 million. It's also Eastwood's biggest opening, too, topping his 2008 film, Gran Torino, with $29 million. Clint Eastwood's latest war drama based on the story of real life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and it has already received nominations for six Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Actor (Bradley Cooper). This past Saturday my wife and I decided to find out for ourselves how the film measured up against the experiences that we had shared almost four years ago.

American Sniper is the Biopic of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most-celebrated sniper in American military history. The film chronicles each of his four tours to Iraq, where his reputation as a sniper who never misses makes him a legend among his fellow troops, and earns him the moniker "The Devil of Ramadi" from his enemies. But with each tour of duty, he grows more detached from his wife and children.

American Sniper is a war movie that is unlike any before, and I believe it will be remembered, as the first movie of it's kind to show the real hard truths of war. The hardest battles are not fault in the streets of Iraq or in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, but instead they are fought far from the front line back on the homefront. Unlike Rambo and every other war movie before it, you see a man who is dealing with his new reality, and the effects that it has upon him and his family's life as well.

The film has been such a catalyst in American culture that it has instantly polarized Hollywood while audiences fill theaters nationwide. There are many examples of misinterpretation of the film, such as Seth Rogan's comparison of it to fake Nazi propaganda, and it has also served as a spark to reignite the ongoing battle between the elitist Michael Moore and rest of us knuckle draggers. In my opinion it seems that the real story of the film is one thing that is not being talked about.

To me this is the story of a man who is dealing with the effects of war that are not fully known until it has already changed you. Kyle's almost self-destructive desire to the service of others is shown as something that has been implemented into his life since birth. An early scene depicts Chris Kyle's father telling him that there are three kinds of people in the world: "wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs." The speech itself comes from Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman's book On Combat, published in 2004.

"If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath -- a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path."

I remember when the towers came down and how I promised myself that I would do something that would repay the scarifies of all those that we lost, even though I had no idea what that cost would be. My time in the United States Marines Corps consisted of marrying the love of my life, having two beautiful daughters, two horrible tours and then coming home to realize the hardest truth of all...

The truth is that the memory of who you were is better than the person that you are.

As the theater darkened my blood ran cold as the call for prayer shot out of the speakers with a force and intensity that my mind and body will never forget. As the story began to unfold my wife and I sat in silence as we tried to hold back all of the emotions that were instantly all too real again. It was almost like looking in a mirror as my wife and I watched the story of Chris and Taya Kyle unfold right before our eyes. We both watched for the first time someone showing the world what our war looked like. Taya 's words resonated with an intensity that was all too familiar for my wife and I. As we sat in the theater I looked into my wife's eyes to see hurt, love, and memories of all that we had been through together.

Taya Renae Kyle: "You're my husband, you're the father of my children. Even when you're here, you're not here. I see you, I feel you, but you're not here."

When my enlistment finally came to an end it took me a very long time to finally "come home." What I realized is that I had learned the ability to disconnect from my reality in order to do what was required to accomplish the mission. This same skill that had allowed me to be so good at my job had also become the thing that made me distant from my family, and I had to learn how to feel again. After longer than I care to admit, I was finally able to be the father my children needed and the husband my wife had fallen in love with.

There is no bond like the one that is forged in the fire of combat. It is hard to put into words or even describe simply because it is built upon principle of the servant leadership. These people that are your coworkers quickly transition into your family. No sacrifice seems to great, it changes who you are; and I believe that Chris Kyle knew that.

His story is one that should truly be known for the legend it really is. The legend of man who gave his greatest measure to protect those he loved and spent his entire life until his dying day in the service of others. This film is not a story of one man's loss of humanity, but instead it is the story of one man who chose the road less traveled so that other's would not have to face all those who only seek to destroy it.

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