A response to Brian McLain's review of American Sniper...

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Here's an excellent response to the review of American Sniper which I linked to in the prior post titled, "American Sniper on American manhood..." This response to the review is by graphic designer Kevin Hilliker who serves as an elder at Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pittsburgh...

a congregation I've joined in worship a number of times and been strengthened by. Thank you to Kevin for allowing us to post here what was originally a private e-mail he circulated among friends.

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While I can't speak from a place of military service, I do think the author was very selective in how he presented this film.

Leslie and I saw the movie over the weekend—and while there are several strong moments of "difficulty of war" sentiments scattered throughout the narrative—the major theme was the real cost of protecting others. Never did I get the feeling of an "anti-war" message, except in the widely accepted sense that war is ugly, although necessary.

For instance, the author mentions a scene of Kyle as a child sitting at the family dinner table while his father talks about aggression. The author then states the next scene shows Kyle as he "essentially caves in the other boy's face", and then immediately follows up this statement with: "Eastwood wants us to know that he will not be glorifying the aggressor in this film". However, the reviewer completely neglects to include Kyle's father talking about there being three kinds of people in the world: wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. He further explains to his boys that it is the sheep dog's responsibility to use his aggression to protect those who cannot—or even will not—protect themselves from those who would do them harm. 

Next, the reviewer states "… when we do see moments of extreme evil from members of the Taliban, the events that lead to this evil are a direct result of American involvement, or American miscalculations. Perhaps the toughest scene in the film—at least for me—involving the execution of an innocent man and his young son, is a direct result of Kyle going against orders." Again, this was indeed a brutal scene in the film, which depicts a Taliban leader known as "The Butcher" attacking a young boy (about age seven) with a drill, then killing him with it. This scene comes at a time in the movie when Kyle and those around him are questioning why they are there. There is very real reason for Kyle to contemplate hanging it up and going back home to his family. This moment in the film, more than any other, reminds Kyle—and the viewer—exactly what kind of brutality we are up against.

Then the reviewer states: "He goes to great lengths to show how they (American soldiers) are manipulated and programmed to make the choices they make." This remark is heavy-handed at best, and, at worst, an ignorant, broad-stroke statement on the mental pliability of our poor, naive soldiers, who are only capable of doing what someone else tells them to do. Kyle and most of the other soldiers are depicted as men, who at a time when our culture completely ignores what is happening around us, are willing to give up the comforts we take for granted to act as our protectors. And, yes, this includes making sacrifices to their own families—not because they want to abandon them, but out of deep sense to take a stand in the active attack on these individuals from foreign threats. It is this fact, the willingness to give up our most precious modern commodities: time (most precious that with our families) and leisure, when the soldiers' true struggle is really brought to the forefront in a powerful way.

Lastly, the article says: "… A culture that gushes over youtube videos of little girls breaking down when they see their daddies after years absence, when little girls should never be placed in that position to begin with. A culture that continues to believe that sending our husbands, wives, mothers and fathers overseas is necessary for our safety. A culture that revels in the destruction of life—whether it be just or unjust". As far as the "little girls breaking down when they see their fathers" comment, the reason those are touchstone moments for some of us is not only because it is heartwarming to see a small child embrace a long-awaited father who has been gone for so long, but also because it reminds us there are real men with real families who make this sacrifice for us on a daily basis, at great cost. 

Secondly, the reviewer takes the world's stand against war in declaring: "little girls should never be placed in that position to begin with," and that "…culture … continues to believe that sending our husbands, wives, mothers and fathers overseas is necessary for our safety". This is a perfect example of the sheep who refuse to believe evil exists or dealt with. The movie makes the case this view is what makes it necessary for men who recognize true evil exists to sacrifice so much. To protect the sheep. As Christians, we live in a world of hard truth—of an admittance of our need for a savior for our sins. The Christian world is one that is broken, ultimately useless, and rotten with sin. It is the unbeliever who lives in a world where he thinks sacrifice and the need to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions doesn't exist. His world should be a utopia—where we know one can never exist in its present dire condition.

Sin has made it so we are not just a nation or a culture "that revels in the destruction of life," but an entire, fallen creation that does so. None of us escape this reality except through God's grace and condescension through Christ. It is indeed a sad moment when Kyle admits to never having opened his Bible (a New-Testament-only version, no less), and a moment most viewers of this film will probaby not think twice about. However, it clearly gets at the heart of the matter, and that is, our hearts.

This is why American Sniper resonates with so many. We all recognize our need for a savior, as well as our inability to achieve salvation on our own. This truth is imprinted on our very souls. I don't know Chris Kyle, I don't know how accurate the depiction is of his life on screen. However, I am thankful there are men who exemplify what this movie shows so well: people with a deep commitment to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is my earnest prayer that these men and women find their own salvation and protection in Christ—whose work is perfect, total, and undefiled with politics or self-interest.

In the end, the reviewer is ultimately asking the question: why is it necessary for men to leave their families—to travel overseas—to make war with other men who wish our existences to vaporized from the face of the planet? The answer: because of sin. Because of our refusal to obey Christ, to call him our master. He is the ultimate sheep dog. The Good Shepherd.

[Dear brother], I thank you for your service, for your willingness to serve, for your family's sacrifice. Which is why it is important to note one critical moment the reviewer also left out of his review. At the very end, Kyle's wife thanks him for the work he has put in to "come back to her". Not just physically, but mentally. He is shown as a whole man by movie's end. One who is at peace with hard decisions he's made. Not to forget them, which would be a betrayal to his decision to become a sheep dog in the first place. He has as normal a civilian life as he can—and is happy to simply be with his wife and children. Yes, he carries the battle scars forever, but they have meaning, and his family is that constant reminder. His daily gift.

Ultimately, this a movie made by non-Christians asking very Christian questions. What is sacrifice? When or why is it necessary? Is redemption even possible?

And again, yes, redemption is possible—even for us who make war in our hearts and minds continually. But the real redemption is only through Christ Jesus, who protects us all. This is American Sniper's biggest failing. Not the depiction of the toll willingness to serve has on a man and his family, but why that service is needed in the first place.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!