Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Genre: Drama, War
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, and Vincent D’Onofrio
Plot: A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects of the Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.
Movie Trivia: Private Joker’s shirt on Parris Island reveals that his real name is J.T. Davis. It’s a deliberate reference to Spec. James T. Davis, the first officially recognized U.S. casualty in Vietnam, who was killed in 1961.
The opening with the lamenting “Goodbye Darling, Hello Vietnam” song playing over a silent montage of young men having their hair shaved off. The simple visual of all the different hair lengths and textures tells a story in itself of each one of them coming from a different background and having a different story to tell. As it transitions to the next scene I am having an “a-ha” moment, most likely, yet again due to this nasty summer sold I have. I am not sure I ever realized that the famous sergeant parodied and referenced throughout all of media was from this movie. If I did know that, I forgot at some point before watching this today for my first time. This makes me, if possible, even more excited for what all is to come. As the scene unfolds I am getting everything I ever wanted. Everything this scene has been built up to be through my time in the cinephile community is been met and surpassed. This is hilarious and lets me know that I would not survive a second under a commander and an environment like that. Between my nervous laughter and low tolerance for high stress situations, I would die from anxiety. The more we see how the Privates are treated, the less humorous it seems. It truly is abuse in many ways. As they “pray” I feel chills run down my body. The terrifying kind of chill, as I pray myself that this is fiction. The thought of this kind of brainwashing is horrible especially when you look at how the military complex in America is structured.
I am not sure if it is my cold, my laziness, or the effectiveness of the scene, but my chest actually hurts as I watch them go through the physical endurance. I feel like I would be exactly like “Private Pyle”, which makes me nervous. I feel like he is most likely to commit suicide, and that breaks my heart. I find myself wondering where he came from, what brought him there. Watching his brother in arms all pulling to help him makes my heart hurt for my prediction even more. Watching as “Private Joker” stand up to the Drill Sergeant, I got my first ray of hope for Leonard as he begins to improve drastically. That hope is very quickly dashed as we see him making mistake after mistake, causing the Drill Sergeant to turn his punishments instead on the rest of the platoon. The night scene with the blue light saturating the screen does not bode well for Leonard. It seems that his brothers have fully turned against him at last. The beat him, all of them, and I am sickened and stunned. I feel it is only a matter of time before my prediction comes true now. The speech about the “famous Marine shooters” is chilling, and again I find myself begging for this all to be truly fictional and a part of me is almost scared to do the research to find out the truth. This is the problem of living in a very sheltered home for the majority of my life so far: I feel so naive when it comes to real life situations and things such as this and I feel like it is something I should know as a functioning member of society. I have to be informed to vote appropriately, even about things in the past, because it all matters.
Speaking of a sheltered upbringing, hearing the platoon sing “Happy Birthday, Jesus” calls to mind more than just a few memories of why movies such as this were sheltered from me. It is amusing to me, though, that right after the thought comes to mind about my sheltered life, a song that I sang every Christmas comes on. The way Leonard talks to his rifle shows me that he has truly been brainwashed by his time in training, which at this point in the film, I am not sure to take that as positive or negative. I am honestly surprised he made it though basic training, though the look on his face as the assignments are being read out… The sinister music of the next scene as Joker patrols the bunks puts you immediately on edge and I feel my cinephile senses tingling. Joker slowly swings the door to the bathroom open, and there he is. Leonard, loading live ammunition into a “full metal jacket”, and explaining the title of the film to me. (Side bar: anyone else feel like Peter Griffin when that happens?) I can see this going one of two ways and neither one look good. Either way I am going to say… I called it. And I am feeling less and less like him, I should add… I may be anxiety ridden and awkward but I am no killer. The look on his face as the Drill Sergeant walks into the room is horrifying. Every gasp and move leading to him shooting the sergeant right in the chest. That is the kind of scene that had me literally jumping up from my lounged position into full attention, nervous for what is to happen as the scene unfolds before me. The visual of the brains splattering on the white tile is amazing. The effects crew had to have worked long hours to get that done just right. The actor who played Leonard Lawrence, “Private Pyle”, did a phenomenal job. I feel the need to pause the movie and have a cigarette after seeing a scene such as that. The realism mixed with surrealism… it is how I could imagine feeling if I were actually there. You know it is happening but at the same time it feels like a dream because things like this “don’t really happen”.
The scene with the Vietnamese prostitute was another amusing moment for me because it is yet another scene I have heard referenced and parodied over and over but never knew it was from this! I really never knew so many cultural references came from this one movie. The nighttime bunk talks and laughter is cut short by the real reason they are all there. War. The scenes are laid out beautifully, the fire cutting through the night and illuminating the enemy troops. I love the button that Joker is reprimanded for and (especially since it is on the helmet of on the cover) I feel like it is going to carry some importance in the plot. The theme throughout is “killer mentality” and you cant go very long into the story without being reminded of that. The cut from Joker asking for the location for a mass grave to his reaction being at said grave was beautiful. You can tell in an instant that he was brought back to harsh reality yet again. The camera pulls back and widens the view of the audience so we are able to see the line of Vietnamese bodies lying side by side, covered in white lime. With an hour left, I sense a theme in the move spiraling progressively darker. Each scene is Joker’s journey watching himself and the world around him breakdown. Each scene brings him closer to his own break, I fear. The talk about his helmet and the button is perfect, explaining how the two represent the concept of the duality of man. Very beautiful and brings such a depth of meaning to the plot.
Joker coming to the Marine outpost has me almost sick to my stomach. The Marine pulling the hat off his “sleeping brother”, revealing instead an obviously dead Vietnamese soldier is horrible and very showing. We see them go into training with hope and future, it is literally beaten out of them in many cases, and then they are sent to another country. No wonder things like this occur, they are set up to occur. It it heartbreaking in its diabolic simplicity. The choreography of the soldiers and the camera as they make their way closer and closer to investigate the bombing after the lieutenant is taken down is stunning. The explosions and gunfire seem more realistic and less gratuitous than most action movies seem today. Granted, in war explosions make more sense, but nonetheless, it is a pleasant break to see explosions used in their proper context. The slow pan as they record the line of soldiers shows the pan of emotion this movie explores. Somber, scary, funny and then irreverent all at once. The interviews are the same. The final interview with Joker brings me back to my roller coaster in how I feel about his character. He really does represent the duality of man. He wants to see a beautiful place, immerse himself in their culture, and then kill them and be the first on his block with a confirmed kill. Both of those fit him, both of those are part of his integral character. And that duality scares me. Each scene is stunning. The set design and the detailed planing of every shot makes for a movie that you forget is a movie and not just a glimpse through a mirror into history.
As Cowboy takes control, a breakdown in command begins to occur. They are all friends, they are all in this together, they all have thoughts and feelings and opinions on how it should go down after this, and it seems like there is no one right or wrong answer. They all have give and take to be considered. But as one of the men breaks rank to try and help the fallen soldier, I sense that the tension mounting now will be broken soon and it is not going to go well for anyone involved. Seeing “Mother” running out after the now two fallen soldiers in the area ahead confirms my fears. They cannot think or reason beyond this animalistic instinct to follow what they think is right, and that moral instinct has been compromised by the abusive training. With the death of Cowboy there is a shift in the tension, ushering in a new feeling of fear. This time you are less scared for the lives of the American soldiers and you are more scared of what they are capable of doing now that they have lost so many friends this one day. Cowboy was the straw that broke the camels back so to speak. The music marks this shift as well, becoming almost like a metallic whining sort of sound matched with rhythmic, pounding drums. It is almost as if the combined loss has made them into a pack more than training and fighting ever could have. They are united in their quest for bloody vengeance now. But as you see a young girl holding the sniper rifle, yet again we are brought to the theme of the duality of man. Anyone can be brainwashed into violence for any reason if they have the right brain and the right teacher. It is a very scary thought. As the platoon stands around watching the young female sniper pray in Vietnamese while she dies, you see again how Joker represents both sides of humanity. The quest for peace is always, especially peace with ones self, is always at war with the will of society. As much as he projected it, it seems like he was not “born to kill” after all.
Seeing the platoon of soldiers marching through a burning city at night while seeing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme song is more chilling than I have words to really describe. The true meaning of that, the capitalism America invading your homeland with the aid of a cartoon mouse all while marching a death march that could also be skipped to. No somberness, no humbleness, no regret, just jovial bouncing songs and laughter as the culture burns around this. This scene in itself sums up a good deal of the problems with America at that time and also today.
This movie was deep and meaningful in so many ways. I see easily why it is such a favorite of so many because it has quickly become one of mine as well. 5/5 for this film to make two new favorites in a row! I’m on a roll!