WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Oscar’s heroes offer opposites

By on January 27, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – This Academy Award season, audiences have been exposed to a series of films that focus on heroes and heroism. Among them, “The Imitation Game” revealed mathematician Alan Turing’s efforts to crack an impossible Nazi code; “Selma” offers insight into the bravery of Martin Luther King Jr.; and “American Sniper” glorified the life of an Iraq War sniper named Chris Kyle who is credited with the most kills in Navy SEALS history.

It’s no secret there’s been controversy surrounding “American Sniper.” Critics say the film lacks sensitivity, while supporters say it’s an admirable depiction of a true American hero. These enthusiasts have become so enraptured by this film and the story of Chris Kyle that they chastise those who disagree with its message. To insult a soldier’s opinions is seen as disrespectful, because he volunteered his life to serve his country.

The film’s title character was dedicated to his duty, and offered little sympathy for the people on the other end of his high-powered scope. Kyle wrote in his autobiography: “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. … I only wish I had killed more. I loved what I did.”

The movie’s Chris Kyle (portrayed by Bradley Cooper) is quiet and modest — an honest, charming American solider with a heart of gold. Every decision he makes is the right one. He never fumbles or misfires. No one disagrees with him. Even when we see him blast bullets through a woman and her child carrying a grenade, we’re subjected to a scene in which another soldier assures Kyle that they were evil to the core.

I heard there have been instances of audiences cheering in cinemas around the country, but had my doubts. Sure enough, in the sold-out screening I attended last weekend, small cheers and bits of applause sounded out during various scenes. When Kyle disposes of the main villain, a woman behind me muttered, “Atta boy, Chris.” Those sitting near me during “American Sniper” didn’t even blink when Kyle was blowing holes in Iraqis, but when an Iraqi shot an American, they gasped and shook their heads.

Director Clint Eastwood filmed “American Sniper” with a very clear message: Chris Kyle was an American hero who deserves more credit. This message is presented through his love for his wife and children, his selfless nature, his impeccable judgment and his perfect aim. The film glorifies this “most lethal sniper” and trumpets patriotism and martyrdom.

In contrast, “Selma” and “The Imitation Game” are about two very flawed individuals — men who fought for what they believed in as they faced opposition from all sides. In each film, we see scenes in which characters disagree with the hero’s motives. These secondary characters refuse to believe that the hero can succeed, and, as history spoils for us, the heroes prove them wrong.

Alan Turing’s character states, “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

“The Imitation Game” is a bloodless film about a mathematician whose determination helps the Allies win World War IMI. On the other hand, “Selma” is, at times, a violent film that displays brutality and injustice up-close and personal, and the man who inspired people to keep fighting. Both heroes demonstrate more honor and glory in one minute than the protagonist of “American Sniper” does during its entire 132 minutes.

Why? Because as any history lecture or comic book will tell us, heroes are heroic for being humble and moral. They do what’s right even when the rest of the world is telling them to stop. They’re imperfect and passionate. We can see their heroism for what it is, because it shines through the very loud opposition. “American Sniper” is designed to only show us the good side of our hero, and it keeps his faults in our blind spots. And as people continue to criticize the film for its skewed message, Chris Kyle’s heroism shines through only for the people determined to see it.

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