#81: Full Metal Jacket [1987]

Before I sat down to watch Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, I’d been reading fashion blogs. The disparity between gushing over peplums and rockabilly shades and then experiencing this film’s stark portrayal of the Vietnam War psychologically winded me. Left sitting there rather stunned, despite the fact that I have seen this film before, I had a lot to think about as the credits rolled.
The plot is segmented into two distinct acts, the first at Parris Island U.S. Marine Corps training ground, and the second in war torn Vietnam itself. A question mark hangs over which is the more disturbing. Many of the images are familiar: you know what to expect from a ‘Nam film. But, what distinguishes Full Metal Jacket from other war films, and makes it worth the watching, is the way Kubrick recreates and deals with the horrors of modern warfare. The producer/director worked with Michael Herr to adapt Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers for the big screen. Kubrick took what I hear is excellent source material, and then did what he does best: produce cinematic magic. As a brief introduction, let me assure you that it’s very Kubrickian.
I was so caught up with the drama of the thing that I forgot that these were actors, and that the sets weren’t real. Surprisingly, Full Metal Jacket was filmed in the U.K.; the Battle of Hue sequences were shot at a disused British Gas facility in London, of all places. Kubrick had the dilapidated buildings smashed into shape before being blown up on film for maximum realism. In fact, realism seems to be the order of the day, as is proved by my shock when I realised that Drill Instructor Hartman was played by an actor, and probably was not so terrifying in real life. The film received universal praise for its outstanding performances, mainly that of Matthew Modine as Private Joker, Vincent D’Onofrio as Private Pyle and R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, although the cast as a whole are impressive.
For me, it’s the sharp dialogue which earns this film its place in the IMDb top 100. It’s just so quotable! Hartman’s tirade of verbal abuse at the training facility is both hilarious and horrifying. His power comes not from his rank, but from his command of language and his total control over of the soldiers’ speech; I’d cry if he looked at me. The second half of the film sees the dialogue shared around more fairly, and the quotations keep on flowing. If pushed, I’d quote Joker’s lines in general as my favourite: “I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and kill them”.
Add on top of this Kubrick’s infallible judgement on all matters musical. The irony couldn’t be more poignant as the squadron patrol through the now decimated city of Hue singing the Mickey Mouse March. What exactly were they all fighting for, again? While Kubrick claims that this is not an anti-war film, it’s hard to see it as anything else. Of course, any film which aims for a realistic representation of war will produce such an effect, which was perhaps Kubrick’s point in claiming not to be making a point. Let’s face it, it’s Kubrick, so he’s probably just lying anyway. 


  1. "Today... is Christmas! There will be a magic show at zero-nine-thirty! Chaplain Charlie will tell you about how the free world will conquer Communism with the aid of God and a few Marines! God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see! He plays His games, we play ours! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls! God was here before the Marine Corps! So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps! Do you ladies understand?"


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