A Conversation with An-My Le


Over at The Brooklyn Rail:

Sara Christoph (Rail): The current blockbuster American Sniper, which deals with the same subject matter as your own work, might be a good place for us to begin.The success of these types of movies fascinates me, though it is not surprising, given the way the films tend to mythologize the soldier’s experience in a one-dimensional way. As someone who has spent years carefully parsing the nuances of what it means to live through or participate in a war, what was your reaction to the film?

An-My Lê: You know, I rarely have time to go to the movies, but I did see American Sniper. I also saw Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam. I should have seen it months ago. I think I had P.T.S.D. afterwards. I was very happy to see American Sniper, because I am always fascinated with this subject, but I was disappointed. It was kind of a great story—

Rail: Just the feat of his accomplishments, leaving aside the moral issues.

Lê: Yes, the feat of it. The stress, the focus, the psychology of the mission and how it affected him—all of that really interests me more than anything else. But you’re right, it is very one-dimensional. Some filmmakers, like Kathryn Bigelow and her film Zero Dark Thirty, are interested in portraying something that is three-dimensional. She’s an artist, and hers is a fictional account. And there is something about working within that fiction that allows for a satisfying and challenging description. I don’t think Clint Eastwood did that, even though he can be a great filmmaker. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he got so caught up in wanting to pay tribute to Chris Kyle as a veteran. And of course that is important. It is a responsibility.

Rail: Specifically because of the way Kyle’s story ends, being killed by a fellow vet. There’s an added responsibility to an individual’s legacy.

Lê: The topic of the military raises questions in ways that other topics would not. There are photographers who have dealt with extreme poverty, or who have photographed horrific labor conditions, and they are not held accountable in the same way. They aren’t asked: what do you think of poverty? But the question of the military is so complicated that it riles up people’s opinions. And when your work is about the military, people want to know: are you for or are you against it? Maybe American Sniper was too caught up in having a straightforward message.

More here.