Quick recap: A young Marine survives boot camp and gets sent to Vietnam where he can truly understand the phrase, ‘war is hell, man.’
Fun (?) fact: Private Joker’s real name in the film is J.T. Davis, a real soldier who is considered to be the first American casualty of the war.
My thoughts: The Vietnam War alone is about as hellish as anyone would expect it to be. But just in case we Americans didn’t really ‘get it’ the first time around, a slew of war movies came out to make sure we remembered just how bad that war was: Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Deer Hunter and so on. All the while Stanley Kubrick was watching us, unimpressed with our claims of horror and empty promises of not letting that happen again. And thus, Full Metal Jacket was born.
Full Metal Jacket is horrifying, but not in the ways I expected. I knew there would be blood and guts because this is war, duh, and I was even prepared to see innocent civilians murdered. But the scenes that stuck with me the most were the conversations the men had about the war. As evidenced by the boot camp sequence, the US wanted killing machines and that’s what they got. It’s much easier to give a man a gun and teach him to shoot than to sit him down and explain why he’s going to war. And this tactic works well, for the most part, until a group is separated from their leader and their leader is murdered and then they have to think for themselves. The juxtaposition of the young sniper dying while the soldiers tried to decide what to do with her followed by the men singing the Mickey Mouse theme song is chilling and affected me more than I expected it to.
Besides horrific scenes, this movie also had some really funny parts. The opening scene of Sgt. Hartman yelling at his new recruits might be one of my favorite scenes on this list, although it’s also really horrible to watch and I felt bad about laughing. Full Metal Jacket is the kind of movie where, when you laugh, the next thing you say is, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe I laughed at that’.The soundtrack is also great and surprised me that it was used for comedic effect as well. It’s a Kubrick film, after all, so I expect nothing less.
Final review: 5/5 but I don’t know if I could sit through it again.
Up next: Shock Corridor
Michael Herr, who co-wrote the screenplay, was a correspondent in Vietnam and wrote a book called “Dispatches”. It’s worth the read, because it’s all about the conversations he had with soldiers in the war and the experience of war. The result is much more poignant than the movie. Check it out.