Hello everyone. Welcome to the very first movie review. Today’s movie: Full Metal Jacket.
I wish I could court martial this movie.
Watching it just makes me feel like I want to round up all the cruel people in the world, strap them to dynamite and then give them the middle-finger before blowing them all to hell.
I also have a problem with characterization, direction and plotting.
All right, let’s take a look.
Full Metal Jacket is a Vietnam War drama released in July 1987 by director Stanley Kubrick. Yes, I’m talking about the director responsible for the bizarre book adaptation of The Shining and the even more bizarre film A Clockwork Orange. I can already see white flags waving dubiously in the wind. Don’t bail out on me now. I’m not finished yet.
The movie is a two part story based on the novel “The Short Timers” by Gustav Hasford. It begins with the recruitment of young men into a Vietnam Marine Corps in Parris Island in 1967. The narrator Private James T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) joins to experience the thrill of combat along with the obese and bumbling Leonard Laurence (Vincent D’onofrio).
Our heroes endure boot camp training imposed on them by the charming Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Emey). He is known for coining such delightful phrases as…”Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas and since you ain’t no steer, well, that kinda narrows it down,” and…”Do you suck dick Private?”
Private: “Sir, no, sir.”
Hartman: “Bull-shit, I bet you could suck a golf-ball through a garden hose.” He also gives Laurence the nickname Gomer Pyle based on his awkward demeanor and obesity. It takes Private Pyle nine months to shed his grotesque weight. I understand that Pyle’s physicality is meant to give others an excuse to treat him like an outcast, but I would think that the military would think twice about enlisting someone with such a wide girth. But I could be wrong.
Pyle is teamed up with Joker who wears a peace sign medallion on his uniform as well as the words “Born to Kill” on his M1 Helmet. Despite a brief explanation that it is a Jungian philosophy of the duality of mankind, this contrast may have been a little bit too outlandish and honestly it doesn’t make much sense to me.
Joker helps his partner get in shape so that he could graduate the training. Incidentally, this is one of the only moments in the entire movie that isn’t entirely devoid of human kindness and compassion. It is short-lived, however, after a jelly doughnut is discovered in Pyle’s locker and his comrades take it upon themselves to beat him viciously his bunk-bed with solid bars of soap wrapped in towels.
To its credit there is something to be said about a movie that speaks to a target audience, namely the Vietnam Veterans, while at the same time attempting to enlighten those of us about the sheer reality of training and combat. But I have to question just how enlightening is it to show the would-be soldiers ganging up on each other? Isn’t there such a thing as the Band of Brothers?
One would think that this movie would portray boot camp in a slightly more positive light, one that would have shone through the end of the first half, at least. But it doesn’t. I mean, Forrest Gump went through boot camp and not only did he deliver the most outstanding answer anyone ever heard to the question, “what is your sole purpose in this army?” which was “to do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant,” and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of course, Forrest Gump is not a Kubrick film.
If there is a glimmer of light anywhere in the film, it is when Joker steps in to aid his fellow comrade so that he can survive basic training, but even those moments are minimal at best. Despite his partners’ compassion and willingness to lend a hand, the collective brutality embitters Pyle to the extent that he seeks to hone his marksmanship skills, which he perfects with deleterious ease.
Pyle manages to impress Sergeant Hartman, but some of the other Privates, Joker especially worries he is growing a little bit too fond of the rifle. He even starts talking to it. After all, “it is his rifle. There are many others like it, but that one is his.” Clearly, Pyle is teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
On their last night in Parris Island the platoon graduates basic training and are each given their Military Occupational Specialty assignments. Joker Davis is assigned to Basic Military Journalism. Amid his excitement during the ceremony, Joker can’t help notice that Gomer Pyle didn’t bother to attend the celebration. He later finds him in the latrine loading his rifle. Joker, being the levelheaded, helpful man that he is tries to calm Pyle down, tries to reason with him. But Joker quickly discovers Pyle is beyond reason. He is beyond himself. Pyle shouts drilling commands and even recites the Rifleman’s Creed. Hartman confronts him. He orders him to surrender.
Private Leonard Laurence, aka Gomer Pyle, murders Sergeant Hartman before turning the rifle on himself.
I sympathize for Pyle through half the movie just so that he can turn into a Columbine maniac and blow his brains all over the wall???
What a lousy payoff!!!
Oh, but it doesn’t end there.
Private Joker Davis goes on to become a self-sufficient combat correspondent in Vietnam for Stars & Stripes in the city of Hue. I have to admit that after what happens to Pyle, I am reluctant to follow this character into battle. I have a feeling I’m going to be let down yet again.
Joker is assigned to First Class Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard). Rafterman is a photographer who claims he wants to go into combat as Joker himself has done. One would think that Davis would be a great mentor. The soldiers at Hue military base are far less convinced. They mock him for his inability to execute the thousand yard stare and criticize him for his lack of expertise. Is there no end to the cruelty in this movie? I mean…my God!!! Why can’t they lighten up?
Joker’s expertise, his psyche and the ability to determine his fate are tested when his position as a combat correspondent thrusts him into the Tet-Offensive. When the North Vietnamese attempt to storm the base, Joker is forced to decide whether or not he is the killer he aspired to become. So, Joker endures nine months of brutal training and discipline to become a hardcore Marine only to find out he’s not really sure whether or not he has it in him to kill people. Then Kubrick justifies the second half of the film by giving Joker enough time to figure this out.
…Rolling my eyes.
He discovers a teenage sniper who wounded and killed several members of his platoon and makes an effort to shoot her but not before his gun jams and he only succeeds in drawing attention to himself. Rafterman shoots but merely wounds her, causing the squad to rally. The sniper begs them to put an end to her suffering. Then they go into this long debate over her while she’s bleeding internally and most likely going into shock. Because, you know, that’s the kind of thing Marines do in a Stanley Kubrick film.
One of the other sergeants, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), orders that the girl be killed mercifully, and only at the hands of Sergeant Joker Davis himself. Why? Well, because he’s the main character, of course. Realizing he has become a killer after all, (spoiler alert) Joker shoots the teenage girl and performs the thousand yard stare into the distance.
It seems he really can do it.
Joker then narrates. “Despite being in a world of shit, I’m glad to be alive and no longer afraid.”
This is a great line, I must say. I just wish it could have been used in a different movie and in a more uplifting context. So, the payoff is that Joker realizes killing is in his blood when absolutely necessary. Oh yeah and he celebrates being alive.
Excuse me while I smack my head down on the desk in front of me.
Well, it’s still better than Pyle’s resolution. Even so, I’m still not sure whether I should cheer Joker on or simply pity him. But that’s the conclusion I’m left with.
Sometimes open-ended conclusions that make you wonder what would happen if things turned out differently can be fun and even intriguing. This ending, however, makes me want to weep for humanity.
So, anyway, that’s Full Metal Jacket. Like I said, I really don’t like this movie. I prefer movies where the main characters rise above adversity and cast hope onto the audience. Instead the more I talk about it the more I want to become a sniper and scope out the director.
The movie may have been made with a $30 million budget and grossed $4.63 million at the box office but I’ll tell you one thing. It sure didn’t make me want to enlist.
This is Ranting Usher giving a full salute. See you all next time.