January 23, 2015
A common saying among Civil War buffs is: “Poor is the nation that has no heroes. Shameful is the one that, having heroes, forgets them.” We”re quickly becoming a nation that can”t handle them.
Though Clint Eastwood’s new film, American Sniper, grossed millions, it also grossed out millions. Buzzfeed recently posted a video that showed millennials trying to eat military rations. The generation wuss verdict on MREs: you should include a plate and maybe some Fritos. But their elders aren”t much better, particularly in the press: ABC, CBS, and NBC implied that the movie “glorified killing,” and a billboard advertising the film was vandalized with the word “murder.”
And then there’s the rest of the film industry. Instead of thinking about the thousands of soldiers we have lost since the invasion of Iraq, Hollywood pothead Seth Rogen said the movie reminded him of the Nazi propaganda film in Inglourious Basterds. A wildly overfed Michael Moore thought it prudent to mention that snipers are “cowards” and one of them killed Martin Luther King, Jr. When the inevitable backlash came, Moore claimed he wasn”t talking about the film, while Rogen claimed “there’s a big difference between reminding and comparing.”
I loved the movie and thought it made Gran Torino look like Up. I understand that war is hell, and Chris Kyle, the most proficient sniper in American history, was shooting a few to save many. The problem with the film was the lack of depth they gave Kyle.
People are complicated. Heroes are imperfect. We can handle the truth. Rumors abound that Chris Kyle was a bit of a bullshitter, who lied about beating up Jesse Ventura and told people he went to Katrina to shoot looters. They say he avoided notoriety, but he was shopping book deals while still deployed. Put that in your movie. It’s relevant. To sanitize Kyle and turn him into Superman is to treat us all like comic book nerds who are overwhelmed by reality.
The whitewashing of WWII bombardier Louis Zamperini in 2014’s Unbroken“directed by Angelina Jolie”was even more egregious. They didn”t just omit some imperfections. They removed his criminal past, his alcoholism, and his Christianity. Those are all inextricably linked to his heroism. The book version of Unbroken took Laura Hillenbrand seven years to write, but the movie boils this epic true tale down to 137 minutes of blah, and that says a lot about this nation’s view of heroes.
Zamperini’s careers as an Olympic runner and a WWII soldier were bookended by total asshole behavior. He was a nightmare of a kid who would fight, and steal, and torment the local police. After the war, he was a pathetic drunk who abused his wife and hated the world. Young Louis” behavior saved his life during the war, and old Louis” behavior was saved by Christianity. Both Zamperinis were cut from the movie. I understand it’s tricky to fit 97 years into a Hollywood film, but cutting out all the color leaves us with nothing but gray, and heroes aren”t gray.
The book Unbroken was so incredible that I caught myself involuntarily yelling “Holy shit!” when reading it on the train. Zamperini was stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days with two other crewmates, Phil and Mac, and nothing to eat or drink. Sharks circled their raft 24 hours a day, and being a street kid, Louis had an unspoken pact with the animals. They stay where they are and he”ll stay where he is. When a Japanese fighter plane began shooting at them weeks into the ordeal, Louis was forced to dive into the water. There he met the sharks and quickly began punching them in the face. That’s right, he fought sharks underwater. This happened several times as the pilot kept circling around to try again. He wasn”t mad at the sharks because he was on their turf.
Not long after, a shark had the audacity to jump in the boat. The other two guys were petrified but Louis was pissed off. The 450-million-year-old fish had broken the code. In retaliation, Zamperini began catching smaller sharks with his bare hands, yanking them on board, and eating them. Somehow this made it to the boss of the entire shark crime family, and after a day of seeing no sharks for the first time, they were greeted by a great white. A shark the size of Jaws lunged at them from underneath and sent them soaring through the air. They kept landing back on the raft and eventually Jaws gave up.