How is a rated R movie about an unpopular war destroying box office records this weekend?
I think it is a combination of the person Chris Kyle was and the desire to feel a sense of justification for the war in Iraq.
Chris Kyle was a compelling person because of the rare and genuine WWII era patriotism he exhibited. No matter how you feel about the Iraq War’s initial justification, once our troops were in Iraq, those attacking were mostly principled insurgents and sworn enemies of the U.S. They weren’t fighting for Iraqi independence, but rather to disrupt the reorganizing of the nation, post-Saddam Hussein. Kyle was involved in the vast sweeps of Iraqi cities to rid them of insurgents so Iraqi citizens could live peacefully as a new government was formed. There are impassioned differences of opinion about the U.S. conducting this war/nation rebuilding operation, but for the period Kyle was there, it was an apparent “good vs. evil” type mission, and that’s what he was fighting for. Of course, for him and his comrades, it was also a fight to keep each other safe and successful.
So, as a snap shot of a war that makes most Americans uneasy, Chris Kyle’s patriotism, heroism, and success are something to appreciate. Furthermore, the movie gives insight to the hardship of our military volunteers and their families. It pictures the incredible struggle they endure with stressful separations, then assimilating in and out of two vastly different worlds- tense foreign combat and suburban American family life. We get a glimpse at the life-altering injuries many soldiers must live with, coupled with the psychological damage myriads suffer (Kyle died trying to help a soldier with PTSD). The movie did a commendable job steering clear of the most controversial elements of the War (politics/religion/economics) and told a true story of an uncommon, authentic human being, who displayed a humility that allows us to relate with him.
I do wish the film would have revealed, as the book did, Kyle’s maturing Christian faith. There is a selflessness about Kyle that is remarkable, even Christlike. After all, it was Jesus who said and then demonstrated- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The fact “American Sniper” is on pace to have the biggest opening weekend in U.S. film history is a testimony to the movie striking just the right chord at just the right time.