Paradise of Storm

Tag: Clint Eastwood

15:17 to Paris and the Banality of Valor

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by Guy Walker

Spencer Stone wasn’t supposed to be good at anything. He was deficient in his academics, overwhelmed with sloth, obese as a child, consumed with his love for toy guns and camo. In other words, a great American in the making. He eventually joined the Air Force where he was deferential and persevering, but kept failing in the most menial tasks assigned. But then on August 21, 2015, Stone proved what he was capable of when he helped thwart a potentially bloody massacre on a Paris-bound train.

He was with with his lifelong best friends Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, traveling through Europe together, unknowingly boarding the same train car that Moroccan-born Ayoub El Khazzani was readying an attack. He armed himself in the bathroom with an assault rifle and three-hundred rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a box cutter, and no shirt, like a self-hating Rambo pantomimist, the sweaty discharge of nerves dripping from his tits. When he emerged from the toilet with gun in hands, he was immediately met with the struggle and force from another passenger, American-born Frenchman, Mark Moogalian. After much hassle, in what looked like a deadly version of musical chairs with the disheveled handing-off of guns, Moogalian was shot in the neck with the pistol, and Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos seized the weapons from Khazzani, beat his face in with the butt of the rifle, and tied him up. They nursed Moogalian’s severe neck wound until the train stopped, and French police and doctors boarded, and all order was restored.

Clint Eastwood’s new movie, The 15:17 to Paris, centers around these suspenseful moments, contextualizing the episode with a strange selection of biographical accuracy. It’s been widely reviewed as a bold, yet mostly failed experiment. By casting the real heroes as the actors, their stultifying charisma is not equatable to bad acting—necessarily, the acting can’t be bad. Criticism of their performance is instead criticism of them as self-conscious young men—a hollow pointless objection that simply says they didn’t entertain the way a real hero would. These complaints are, of course, wrong. Eastwood’s experiment is neo-Stanislavskian idealism, a higher methodology of never breaking character, a newfound commitment towards death. Our heroes will never be in another movie not because they are loathsome as actors, but because they will never be able to prepare for another role.

So, why was the movie so unbearable?

Eastwood has long made clear his political leanings. His queer imbecilic performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, in which he delivered a stumbling hallucinatory interrogation of Barack Obama sitting in a chair, made everything he did in the future a political act. The 15:17 to Paris wasn’t just shameless military propaganda, or an advocacy of mass distribution of guns and war games for children; it was a landmark entry in the anthology of alternative facts. The single most thoughtful and literary sentence of dialogue was also its worst: my God is bigger than your statistics. It was a moment in the film when our heroes are children; they’re acting up in school, and two of the mothers are speaking privately with their sons’ teacher. She flagrantly and brashly diagnoses the children with ADD, saying they need to be medicated, subdued. The film’s commentary on the reckless haphazard medication of children could have been poignant; but Eastwood’s screenwriter, Dorothy Blyskal, instead diverts it to a gratuitous pandering to Christian conservatism. My God is bigger than your statistics is part of the defiant eulogy in Christian politics—it’s a reactionary crack that’s widely distributed in its application, saying gays are faggots, abortion is murder, war is peace, and so on, until the whole American experience is a porcelain infancy.

There’s about a twenty minutes sequence of Stone and Sadler ambling around Venice, Italy with a selfie stick, posing with the puerile occupation of “Americans in Italy.” There’s no plot here, no advancement of conflict, no foreshadowing of obstacle or goal. But in Eastwood’s obvious senility, in his dithering worship of films about strong men, in his attempt to remain modern and relevant, he inserts the selfie stick as a totem to this is what kids do these days, like a grandfather trying to stay hip with his runny-nosed grandsons: Man, this ice cream is the tits! he says, slobbering everywhere, embarrassing the world.

This has always been an illuminating hallmark of Eastwood’s. His entire career has been about re-characterizing his glory days as the elusive cowboy in the Sergio Leone films, characters that Donald Trump has purportedly idolized himself after—a trick-stopping showman who shoots from the hip and says it like it is. American Sniper was merely an episode in the gradual milk-lacquered entropy of Western heroism, the masturbatory fatigue weighing everything down with the onset of chronic blockbuster depression.

There’s a moment when our three heroes wake up together in a sunlit room after a night of dancing in some club in Amsterdam. One of them mutters the well-known adage: last night was crazy, but man, this morning I’m so hungover. The problem isn’t just that this is profanely hollow dialogue that doesn’t do anything to advance the story; rather, it unearths the more brazenly solecistic aspects of ourselves we’d prefer to edit out; it is unnervingly accurate in its portrayal of human simplicity. In truth, the vast majority of us speak the way an illiterate would write. If an invisible transcriber followed us as we went about our day, and we had to read ourselves in dialogue form each night before going to bed, most of us would shrink into the deepest folds of the sheets, cowering in the face of our brutish parody. A choked starling and her impish gasps is all we get; the rest is theater. The home-loving dramaturges that Chekhov and Arthur Miller beautified give an unrealistic advantage to their kind. Those everyday homely characters that we are supposed to relate to are too pictorial and precise in their structure. Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos are relatable in their doughy normalcy, their artless glorification of helping others.

It’s interesting to compare the incident on the Paris-bound train with a similar, more gruesomely intimate tale of everyday heroism. On May 26th, 2017, on a train in Portland, Oregon, Jeremy Joseph Christian, an ugly mullet-loving white suprematist, was spluttering his yokel philistinism at two teenage girls, one Muslim, the other African American. Strangers in the crowded train intervened, defending the girls, two men of which ultimately sacrificing their lives, and a third man surviving with a severe stab wound to the neck. It’s heroic, but not cinematic. Dead heroes don’t inspire others. But more importantly, there is no flag worship in this type of action; the Other is the victim and not the perpetrator. The messaging in The 15:17 to Paris is clear that these are our boys. Focusing on an incident like that on the train in Portland would confuse that dialogue.

The 15:17 to Paris feels cruel and inept because it is. It never should have been made. It feels like a movie built with stock footage, the kind you see in pharmaceutical commercials with couples walking their doggie on the beach, flying a kite, mowing the lawn—the everyday tedium that we are actually programed to forget. This is all stacked around a single moment of competence, when the shooter’s gun jams, and our hero tackles him. Actually, both of his guns jam. Eastwood makes a nod at the monumental luck, when Skarlatos inspects the guns immediately after the attempted attack, and comments on their “one in a million” fortitude; but Eastwood never fully illuminates this, that the grandiosity of one man’s valor swirls chaotically in our collective farts of ephemerality.

It brings it back to when they are children—my God is bigger than your statistics. “One in a million” is prophecy along this quixotic brand of Pulp Fiction divine intervention moment—it marries Stone’s awesome bravery to run headfirst at the barrel of a loaded assault rifle with the omnipotence of God’s hand at work, ending with the victorious ejaculation of hero-worship dripping off the screen, a hundred flag-waving hard-ons watching determinedly in the theater, their dicks overflowing like lava cakes. What the film achieves in is explicating the pedestrian nature of heroism—it’s something that everyday citizens like you and I can achieve—be fat, suck at school, stop terrorists. It’s the American way.

And in a way, 15:17 to Paris transcends above all other films. The exhausting banalities of our heroes’ day-to-day are all part of the unsentimental realism of how we live our lives. We’re shitty at nearly everything that’s interesting. We go to Europe—to the safe big cities, and to the hostels in those cities—out of some last-ditch desperation for menial indulgence. The 15:17 to Paris is Westernized avant-garde, an unintended masterpiece of social criticism; it forces its viewers to plug along with the careful representation of themselves—an hour-and-a-half autobiographical biopic in which we stand in front of the mirror staring at the religion of monotony that has overcome us, the utter boredom. It’s a sobering moment, when we realize none of us actually orate like the baroque Tarantino dialogues, that the extravagant fictions of our favorite films are exactly that—fantastic, impossible, award winning in their artistry.

Finally, we can continue as normal. Because this is who we are. Heroes are everyone everywhere, shuffling across the wide open range, consuming things like mac ’n’ cheese and Coca Cola. Our cinematic gallantry always just a moment away.


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A Hero of Our Time

by Guy Walker

Thumb Wrestling the Colonel and Terp Al Fallujah

“Some were dreadfully insulted, and quite seriously, to have held up as a model such an immoral character as A Hero of Our Time; others shrewdly noticed that the author had portrayed himself and his acquaintances.  .  .  .  A Hero of Our Time, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait, but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation in the fullest expression.” -Mikhail Lermontov 

It was the winter of 2012 when I met Chris Kyle, the “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.” It was a southern Californian winter, which means the drunks still wore only their stained wifebeaters in the neon bars, and the Santa Ana winds howled and made the palm trees lean. Chris was here in California beginning his book tour for American Sniper, the braggish sophomoric tale about one man’s journey through the most puerile horrendous war in U.S. history. I coughed loudly from all the dowdy feculent steam of a hundred American bodies waddling around the bar without any serious worry or threat as to what we were all doing here still exhaling our drunk stale air, everyone raising their voices about some various traumatic unconscious degree of our existence. I was hunched over the bar table, staring at an overweight lady with bleached fried hair bending over to aim her pool stick. “Step One,” the jukebox sung, “you find a girl to love, Step Two, she falls in lo-ove with you, Step Three, you kiss and ho-old her tight.” The lady whipped the pool stick and missed the cue ball entirely, and then she laughed because it was so silly, and touched the fat bearded man on the chest, as if to say, “I can’t believe I missed, now let me touch you on the chest.” A hundred despondent beer guts, men and women alike—they all gave me a headache, or maybe I was just drunk.

And then there was Chris Kyle. Handsome, if you are attracted to ugly. Intelligent, if you are stimulated and embellished by reading a book that consistently refers to the reader as “ya’ll,” with so many broken incoherent sentences it makes you want to punch a songbird in the chest. I had already read his book, and although he totally convinced he was a good shot and a cowboy at heart, he never once explained exactly why the entire Iraq War itself was a preemptive war based on a series of lies and manipulations. He was the product of phenomenological insanity who sniffed the patriotic farts of Team America, who couldn’t act out of any reason for the true sensibility of heroism, but merely because the very Eigenschaft of War was built around the vague fustian dialogue of ‘duty’ ‘freedom’ ‘honor’ and ‘liberty’. These are the types of words that re-represent death and misery, a methodic Orwellian doublespeak that is the heart of all war propaganda. Because ‘death’ and ‘body parts’ don’t have the ring that ‘honor’ and ‘duty’ do. The moment you walk into a Navy recruiting office, it begins—you can play war-based video games and be surrounded by racially sensitive posters of Latino guys, white guys, and an overweight black girl all looking sharp as hell, under their various designated words of heroic allusion.

I was sitting at the bar table, and turned and saw Chris Kyle walking towards me—he was coming from the bathroom and was wiping his mouth, and he looked like he was up to no good. Like I said, I had already read his book before. Which is why I came here to the bar, to find the motherfucker who wrote the thing. I wanted my eight hours back. Here’s a summary of his book: “I had been in some pretty bad-ass situations…I only wish I had killed more…I shot beach ball number two. It was kind of fun.” I was an aspiring writer at the time (but now I have a blog) so I knew what I was up against. The photos that leaked from Abu Ghraib are child’s play compared to this book—not because of the advanced levels of warcrimes that Chris Kyle committed, but because of the utter horridness of the writing itself. He wasn’t just bad, he was the worst.

“Hey Chris!” I yelled in a drunken slur, “You suck!”

He froze in place, unable to conceive what he just heard, and stared at me fearfully. “What did you say?” His eyes widened into a night-maddened fury of contempt, as if I was the last savage that stood in the way of him and a legitimate democracy.

“You heard me. You…suck. And your writing is shit and infantile.” I rose my fist above my head and punched him in the face, and he fell backwards and crashed over a table, glasses of half-empty beer smashing all over the floor. He stumbled further back and knocked against the fat blonde lady, her huge pale stomach hanging out of her shirt, bouncing him off of her, her stomach waving and echoing in its deep fleshy canyons, her bellybutton as dark and useful as a black hole.

“Now give me back my eight hours!” I did 245 push-ups earlier that day, and had sex twice in the last week, and nobody was going to fuck with me.

“Alright! Alright!” he started to whimper, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! Just take them.”

So I took my eight hours back and walked out of there.

Chris Kyle killed up to two hundred and fifty-five people, served four tours in Iraq, was involved in six roadside bomb attacks, and had a six figure bounty on his head by Iraqi insurgents. His first kill was a woman with a grenade in her hand who walked into the street as the Marines attacked her town. Nobody knows what the circumstances really were. It’s possible the woman who was also carrying her child had innocently found the grenade on the floor of her kitchen and was returning it to the Americans. But his description of the incident is disturbingly similar to a cowboy’s slaughter of the Indians: “I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. Savage, despicable, evil—that what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy savages. There was really no other way to describe what we encountered there.” Chris Kyle boasted that he killed thirty armed looters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was investigated and proven a lie. He claimed he killed two Mexican carjackers in Texas. That too was a lie. His family claimed he donated nearly all of the proceeds of his book sales to veterans’ charities. The reality is he donated about two percent of his winnings and pocketed the other three million dollars. He killed up to two hundred and fifty-five, but he also wrote in his book, “If you see anyone from about 16 to 65, and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see.” If these are the rules to a fetid orgiastic heroism, if all I have to do is kill anything with a twig and berries, then I want a shot at the record.

Chris Kyle is dead now. He had the chary foresight to bring an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD to a shooting range and surround him with rapid gunfire. Eddie Ray Routh purportedly snapped at some point, tormented from the death and scattered body parts he had seen in Iraq, and shot and killed Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. Lying dead in the expensive dirt of Rough Creek Lodge and Resort near Fort Worth, Texas, Chris Kyle had no more duty or honor to gain. There’s no point to savagery when you’re already dead. There’s no point to lying and boasting and killing when you’re already dead. But there is reason to praise the dead when they’re dead. Like others before him, his death finalized his immortality. Like the Islamic martyrs who reach their paradise, like Marilyn Monroe who will always be beautiful, Chris Kyle will always be an American war hero. Jesse Ventura recently won a lawsuit against Chris Kyle’s estate, rewarded $1.8 million for defamation damages and unjust enrichment for a story Kyle made up about punching Ventura in a bar in Coronado. I can’t get sued. Not because Kyle is dead and dead people can’t sue, but because my story is true, in all its crude alluvial vividness.

But I didn’t make the movie. Clint Eastwood did and American Sniper is now nominated for six Academy Awards. It’s an American hero movie, a figure of severe courage and honor standing against the face of evil and savagery, a family man who pets his dog and drinks more beer than you, someone we can all believe in. Opening weekend grossed over $105 million, the largest in history for an R-rated movie. And Chris Kyle’s only regret was that he didn’t kill more. Selma on the other hand, about a black minority who stood peacefully in the face of hate and violence, grossed one-tenth of what American Sniper opened with. In the weeks prior, after the terrorist attacks of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris, a parochial nationalistic outcry erupted over the murder of thirteen innocents. At the very least, 500,000 Iraqis were killed in the American occupation and invasion of Iraq. In an interview on CNN, a former Navy SEAL defended Chris Kyle’s legacy, stating that if every soldier was a good as Chris the war would have been over in less than a year. But the war itself was never questioned. In the book, as well as the movie, a direct connection is drawn between the September 11th attacks and the Iraq War. The barrenness of reason has made the desert stink. But Clint Eastwood has made it clear that you can’t question the ogreish curse of unreason. In 2005, while accepting an award at a National Board of Review dinner, Eastwood directed a comment at Michael Moore, stating, “Michael, if you ever show up at my front door with a camera—I’ll kill you. I mean it.” In other words, Don’t question me and don’t discuss with me. Just eat my shit and swallow it.

Chris Kyle’s fatal biopic had the ingredients of a masterpiece—a Sophoclean tragedy of an avant-garde misanthrope who finally dies by the sword he sharpens. The pullulating stray triumphs between Lordship and Bondage. But Eastwood took a different approach. He didn’t include any of the tasty bits of the cosmetic psychopathy that eventually killed Kyle—it’s no longer heroic when it’s absurd, when the wolf wears sheep’s clothing. You know, Kim’s ass don’t look good when you see her shit.

Newsweek’s Jeff Stein, a former US intelligence officer recalled a visit he made to a lewd reeking hangout for American snipers, where, in his words, “the barroom walls featured white-on-black Nazi SS insignia, and other Wehrmacht regalia. The Marine shooters clearly identified with the marksmen of the world’s most infamous killing machine, rather than regular troops.” Chris Kyle perfected the despondent amorality of Nature, the Hegelian stratum of the immediate being for oneself—for, according to Hegel, all being in general, all “pure immediacy [is] purified by absolute negativity,” Kyle only wanted to kill more, to rid the world of savagery, to wipe out all the stray fanatic negativity, and create Absolute Negativity. Only then would the fields be beautiful. Because the whole world could end in a year if we were all as good as Chris Kyle.

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