Two scenes struck me in “American Sniper.” If you’ve been hiding under a rock or are otherwise unaware of the Oscars, the movie is a biopic based on the best-selling memoir of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran who was killed two years ago by a troubled Marine vet whom Kyle was trying to help readjust to civilian life.
In the first scene, Kyle (Bradley Cooper) gets a call on his satellite phone from his wife Taya, who while walking out of her obstetrician’s office tells him their first baby will be a boy. Kyle is riding in a convoy in Iraq that comes under fire, and he drops the phone on the ground as he scrambles out of the truck. Taya is shown in medium shot that moves in, as she hears nothing over the phone but the gun battle. She is in meltdown, yelling into the phone, connected to the war but not to her husband. The camera pulls back, and behind Taya people go in an out of the office building. They either don’t notice a very pregnant woman in distress, or they choose not to.
In the second scene, about five years later, Kyle is at an auto repair shop with his son. He signs the work order, the camera at medium shot so we take in the clerk, the waiting room, other customers. Kyle offers his son a lesson about the mechanics of a gumball machine. In close-up, a man introduces himself and explains that Kyle had saved his life in Iraq. He bends down and tells the boy his dad is a hero, that he is alive and has a two-year-old daughter because of him. The man stands and salutes. Kyle is stiff and uncomfortable, unable to acknowledge the praise. Behind the man, two customers, slightly out of focus, read magazines. They either don’t notice an unusual conversation, or they choose not to.
I have no idea what director Clint Eastwood intended in the way he shot those scenes. My interpretation is that we are routinely unaware of what is happening in front of us. The reality is that we are connected, and in the case of “American Sniper,” to a war in which only a tiny fraction of us had direct experience.
The ripples of Kyle’s life and death will play out over a long time. Because of one war in Iraq, we are in another, labeled ISIS, that has metastasized across the Middle East and beyond. We are inextricably tied to each other, to events on the other side of the world, to fellow customers in a repair shop.