Monday, February 12, 2007

Full Metal Jacket (Movie Review)

I know, I know. As someone who watches a lot of movies — and as someone who is particularly intrigued by Stanley Kubrick — I should've watched Full Metal Jacket eons ago.

And I did. But I was 14 the first time I watched this movie; a particularly tough age to get past the language and violence as a means to understand the function of either. To make matters especially complex, I originally watched this movie with my older brother and his best friend — himself a member of the Marines. Hearing them shout and laugh at the movie — when I found it to be somehow disturbing, and sad — often prompted me to leave the room.

"Is that what it's really like?" I'd ask.

"Yep," replied his friend. "That's exactly what it's like."

From there, he and my brother would return to calling each other "pogues" and "Jarheads" while I struggled to balance the images on screen with what was then my fairly Republican approach to world-affairs.

Add in a few years, a dash of wisdom. And a war I'm morally opposed to... and suddenly I understand quite well just why I was so bothered by the film the first time around. It wasn't so much the nightmarish quality that marked other Kubrick films, a la Clockwork Orange (1971), as it was the truth behind the nightmare.

Full Metal Jacket takes places during the Vietnam War, with the first quarter of the film being dedicated to a group of men undergoing basic training for the Marine Corps. Here you see how "killers" are made and spirits broken — all the while without disrespecting the Corps (a fine line that causes the film to appeal to pacifists and soldiers alike... not that the two are mutually exclusive).

Later, the film continues to follow one of the newly inducted Marines, a loveable, wise-cracking newsy nicknamed "Joker" (played by Matthew Modine) by his Gunnery Sergeant (played by real-life Marine, R. Lee Ermey). Joker mockingly inscribes "Born to Kill" on his helmet, a notable contrast to the peace symbol he refuses to remove from his uniform. His smart remarks eventually "earn" him a ticket to the lines, where U.S. forces are in dire straights. And while Joker is a pacifist at heart, he's anything but a pansy on the field. But that doesn't make the ensuing violence any easier to cope with.

Or to paraphrase:
Joker [Relaxing in the Barracks]: I'm so bored, man. I can't wait until I'm back in the field where there's some real action.

Joker [Raising his automatic rifle minutes later, after the enemy attacks their base for the first time]: I hope they're just pulling our leg. [Shaking] I'm not ready for this.
In sum: a great movie that's just a couple clicks shy of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) in terms of timeless, similarly-themed films.* I'd recommend anyone revisit both for a renewed perspective on the current state of things.


*Admittedly, Brazil deals moreso with the effects of a government instilling the fear of "the other" at home, where as Full Metal Jacket deals more with the psychology of war on the individual. And yet: they work quite nicely together. Companion guides, as it were.


disgruntled world citizen said...

i just saw Brazil for the first time two weeks ago. A friend of mine let me borrow it. I liked it, but I'm not sure I'd call it "timeless." I think I need to watch it, again, though. There is a nice three disk set on Criterion.

I used to think Full Metal Jacket was "cool" when I was younger, but one day I watched it and was, pardon the pun, totally blown away. Full Metal is one of those movies that everytime you watch it, you learn something else. It really is an amazing film.

Full Metal is alot like Apocalypse Now for me. I have to steel myself for the experience. Both movies just stay with me, I'm not sure why, though, I was never in the military.

Great, now I gotta go watch them, both, again. Sheesh...

Oh, btw, I know its like two weeks late, but yer papers are in the mail. I sent them today.

James Burnett said...

Best Vietnam War movie, in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

I saw Full Metal Jacket in the theater three days after getting out of basic training. I laughed for the better part of the basic training sequence. I cheered at the end. (Yes, I was that sick but I was 17 then.)

Humans are not by their nature killers. It takes a lot of training to get a person to kill someone they have never met.

This movie has a lot of quotes that I love. I have .wav files for a lot of them.

I need to see the movie again. It makes you wonder what movies are going to come out of this quagmire.