Full Metal Jacket

(USA/UK - 1987)

by Matt White & Mike Lorefice

Cast: Mathew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard
Genre: War/Drama
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Gustav Hasford, Michael Herr, & Stanley Kubrick
Cinematography: Douglas Milsome
Composer: Vivian Kubrick
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Matt: Full Metal Jacket is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Why? For some reason I can watch this movie at almost any time. I am always "in the mood" to watch it. It may not be as artistically pleasing as 2001: A Space Odyssey, as shocking as A Clockwork Orange, or even as beautifully photographed as his last film Eyes Wide Shut. However, in the Kubrick filmography, I feel that Full Metal Jacket is the most accessible.

Mike: I have no problem telling someone why I feel a film was good or bad, but accessible is foreign to me. Much of the problem is the term has been bastardized to mean something that is simple and easily recognizable. In terms of the way the word is used, I'd say Spartacus would be considered his most accessible because it's a grand epic that, despite being hailed as intellectual, requires little in the way of thinking. I don't find Spartacus very compelling for this reason, and it losing it's way by leaving Spartacus to explore useless subplots (particularly involving obligatory love interest Jean Simmons, especially the parts where she is with Lawrence Olivier) and having some of the worst dialogue ever uttered in film (especially when Kurt Douglas and Simmons are by the water) doesn't help either. Maybe if Anthony Mann wouldn't have been fired it would have been a more psychological film, but as it stands now the film goes downhill after the first hour (where the change from Mann to Kubrick is supposed to have taken place) and is simply a less dumb epic with some subtext. What I love about Full Metal Jacket is the material can be interpreted in many ways, and you can pretty much go as far beneath the surface as you choose to. That said, if you don't want to examine the material at all, the film is still very entertaining.

Matt: When I was at Blockbuster video one night, scanning the shelves hopelessly for something to watch, I heard the muttering of a guy and his girlfriend in the "action" movie section, just one row over from me. The man, who did not look like your normal appreciator of fine cinema, sporting a conservative collared shirt and blue jeans with the big "cowboy" belt buckle, called in my direction, "Hey dude, isn't Full Metal Jacket one of the greatest movies of all time?" He asked me semi-rhetorically. "Oh yeah," I replied. He then proceeded to tell his girl, "Y'see, every man thinks Full Metal Jacket is one of the greatest movies ever made." This was not the first time I heard these sentiments coming from an average-Joe Texan. Most of my friends, who are not really "film buffs" and have never taken a film class in their life, love Full Metal Jacket.

Mike: One thing that amazes me about Full Metal Jacket is how many lines people use from it. The other day, I posted one quote from it one the message board of our 12-man fantasy football league, and got 7 in return. I'm sure I knew at least 20 digs from this film before I ever saw it, and each time I revisit it I notice more lines I've heard both from people and in various pop culture that I didn't realize originated with this film. The first half of Full Metal Jacket is funnier than 99% of the comedies ever made.

Matt: The first impression I had about this movie is how hilarious it is in the first half. Even in the second half there is some darkly humorous parts, like the scene where they are in the helicopter or with the "soul brother" and the prostitute. One of my best friends has the opening rant by the drill sergeant on his computer and he plays it everytime he wants to have a good laugh. Lee Ermey's delivery is half the reason it sounds so funny.

Matt: I think the reasons people love the film so much are simple. First, Full Metal Jacket tries to understand the "American Soldier". Famed historian Stephen Ambrose called the American Soldier the "greatest person of the 20th century". Most people in the area I live (Texas) highly esteem soldiers and the military. And it seems since Vietnam, Hollywood has spat on the US military, US soldiers and, well, war in general.

Mike: I'm not saying I want to see pro war films, but one of my problems with Hollywood is they decide they will only finance one type of film. There is such a thing as a necessary war. Granted very few fall into that category and they won't make a film that looks into which do and don't, but the point is on certain issues Hollywood simply adopts a stance and won't finance anything that goes against it. What's worse is their values are so screwed up. I mean, look at a turd like Behind Enemy Lines. They think it's worth risking a war to potentially save the life of one measly soldier and make a villain out of the one American character that pauses to consider the consequences of the supposedly ennobling rescue mission.

Matt: I do not think anyone in their right mind is "pro-war" in the strictest sense of the term. Most war films tend to focus on two things. The "anti" films focus mainly on the atrocities and cowardly acts of war, displaying the horrible things that war can do to certain people, while the "pro" films tend to focus on the bravery of the soldiers and their overcoming of certain obstacles. Both types show people dying and the horrible things that can happen, it's just that they emphasize different things. I think Full Metal Jacket tends to give equal time to both sides. As futile one might think Vietnam was, real people were thrown in to the conflict, sometimes doing horrible things (like Mei Lai) but at the same time they were very brave (like the siege at Khe Sahn). War can produce both the worst and best aspects of people's character. However, as you mentioned Hollywood never really deals with this. Movies like Behind Enemy Lines are so mentally deficient they make the WWE booking look brilliant.

Matt: Secondly, Vietnam, the war Full Metal Jacket is set in, never seems to get a fair shake, usually with the war effort being condemned immediately before there is any real sense of exploration of the war and its motivations. Whether or not one feels Vietnam was a cluster is not the issue; it just seems that Vietnam was never given the examination World War II received with the "pro" films such as The Longest Day, To Hell and Back, Run Silent, Run Deep to the "against" films like Bridge on the River Kwai, The Thin Red Line, and to a lesser extent Saving Private Ryan. Practically all Vietnam has is "against" films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Casualties of War, Heaven and Earth, and Born on the Fourth of July. Now, granted three of those films are directed by Oliver Stone and there are a few widely known "pro" Vietnam films, mainly the Green Berets and the recent We Were Soldiers being the ones that come to mind. However, both of those films are somewhat laughable compared to films mentioned above.

Mike: The problem is only Born on the Fourth of July, which does so without any complexity, even breaches one of the two real issues, the morality of US involvement in civil wars or wars between other countries. Vietnam is probably the most feasible arena for the film that needs to be made because it would be too difficult to get a film made questioning our current involvement in other third world nations or especially Israel. The more important issue is finding the identity of the people whose affairs we are meddling in. There is no film about Vietnam that sees the humanity in the Vietnamese, much less attempts to understand how they function and why they function that way. Until we can understand the people we fight for and against, all our films about it will continue to be imperialistic. Whether the film glorifies or denounces the war then become irrelevant because it's always from the perspective of how it helped or hurt America, and only America. I think this Rafterman quote sums up how we see our role in outside conflicts. "Well, I don't think there's any question about it. I mean, we're the best. I mean, all that bullshit about the Air Cav…When the shit really hits the fan, who do they call? They call mother green and her killing machine."

Matt: Full Metal Jacket is neither a pro nor anti war film. Its one of the few war films that actually tries to explore all the aspects of war, mainly coming to focus on the core of any war: the soldiers that fight them. It is one of the few films trying to understand the American Soldier rather than accepting or condoning them. I think this is where the film develops so much respect from both film scholars and the average guy. This is not just Kubrick's doing but also that of his collaborators, Gustav Hasford and Michael Herr, who both experienced Vietnam but under different circumstances (Hasford was a soldier and Herr was a reporter). The film lets those watching it come to their own conclusions rather than trying to force feed something down our collective throats. That is what I hate about most "important" films like American Beauty, Saving Private Ryan, any Stanley Kramer film and, well, most of the films that are given a trophy at the Academy Awards. Most of those films do not explore, they just preach, and if the Hollywood elite agrees with the preaching then the movie gets an award and it suddenly becomes one of the "greatest movies ever made". Ironically, those who survive today as being labeled "great" filmmakers like Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Jean Luc-Godard and others, rarely receive honors from the Academy mafia. And if they ever do, it happens after the fact, usually in the form of a "special honor" award (Kurosawa is the exception to this rule).

Mike: Kurosawa is only an exception to the type of films the Academy honors because of the high quality of his films. He made his name internationally with Rashomon, a film that while very good, is also preachy and sentimental (two problems he sometimes worked around but never overcame). He's one of the foreign directors that's more revered abroad because his films are highly influenced by other cultures rather than being "true native art" like Yasujiro Ozu, whose existence the Academy perpetually ignored. Kurosawa adapted films of such authors as Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, as well as working in "Western film genres". Due to the type of films he made, their popularity, and the way he made them, it's not surprising that the Academy Mafia didn't subsequently turn their back on him until the end (Yume) when he stopped making films with action. However, true to the America is the greatest attitude of the Academy, his films would only get token nominations like set decoration or costume design.

Matt: In Japan, Kurosawa was voted the "least Japanese" of all their directors. Not surprisingly, his films were more attractive to westerners than Japanese. What's funny is that we base a lot of our cultural assumptions about Japan on Kurosawa's films, yet his films were the most anti-Japanese in their thinking. His samurai films made fun of the Bushido code (Sanjuro did this in particular) and his characters were fiercely independant rather than being group oriented like most Japanese. Most of his samurai were "ronin" (they wandered because they were left masterless) and in actual Japanese society they were not looked upon very highly because they often worked for the necessities (when they found a worthy cause), so they lacked the finances to maintain the samurai's stature. Meanwhile, the directors Japanese culture could more accurately be based on like Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi hardly got face time in the academy. Even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon got its award nominations because Kung Fu has become so imbedded in our culture. I would even venture to say the token nomination of Farewell My Concubine was due to its subtle homosexual content which the academy was trying to promote to the mass public at the time. But a few years later when Wong Kar-wai won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes for the similiarly themed, Happy Together, the film could scarcely find a distributor.

Mike: There was some movie I watched a long time ago that was set in a foreign country and one of the guys associated Americans with Rambo. It was funny at the time (which was the intent) but now it's mainly scary because the vast majority of American's popular films are populated by people that don't exist in the real world, or at least are the smallest minority of our society. If you try to look at our films, with all the young adults that are financed by magical forces and have no legitimate problems, from the perspective of most any other country it's no wonder they resent the lazy Americans who have everything they want without earning any of it just because they are American.

Matt: The great thing about Kubrick's films is that from 2001 onward, he never really followed the traditional "three act" storytelling structure. His films are usually segmented in a way that best fits the respective story. In Full Metal Jacket, the film is divided in to two parts: Boot camp and Vietnam. Boot camp is usually the only part of the film that most of my friends watch. However, both parts have much to admire.

Mike: Countless films follow soldiers from training to war, but that's not what Kubrick has done here. He's forged two separate sections, each with a specific purpose and connected only because there's more poignancy and immediacy to seeing how certain soldiers faired in combat after their attitudes were shaped than seeing a whole new group. That said, I always picture Animal Mother being a bully version of Private Pyle who maintained enough sanity to make it to the "conflict".

Matt: With the boot camp segment, we are introduced to the main characters we will follow through most of the film, mainly Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and Private Cowboy (Arliss Howard). They are not the complete focus of this part though. The main emphasis seems to be on the relationship of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) and Private Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio). The whole purpose of boot camp is to take the drafted men, from different areas and environments and mold them in to the "soldier". They are molded to develop certain attitudes towards life issues, like God, war, racism, and sex from the perspective that will best serve the military. They are told that God "loves the (marine) Corp," because of all the souls they deliver to Heaven, and you can "give your hearts to Jesus but your ass belongs to the Corp." Not the traditional values I learned in Sunday school.

Mike: One thing that amazes me about war is how God has fought himself in every war that didn't involve an atheist country. One of the most powerful scenes has Private Joker shocking Sergeant Hartman by not answering "Sir, yes Sir" to the question of whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. Joker getting promoted for being unwavering and unflinching in this view that goes against the one he's supposed to have shows that characteristics are more important to the core than beliefs. Catholicism is just a tool used by the army to soften what will inevitably happen to many of the soldiers, killed in battle, and convince them they have a higher purpose and will live on forever even though the other side believes they do too. The real marines prayer is, "Without me, my rifle is useless; without my rifle, I am useless."

Matt: They are taught how to be "killers". They are molded to be a cohesive unit devoid of racism. "There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here, you are all equally worthless." There is obvious racism, but its not to get in the way of winning a war. For sex, woman are just objects for pleasure. They are never really referred to as women, but rather in the crude vernacular of their sexual organ. This almost seems like "locker room" talk, but at the same time it is openly condoned and encouraged by their drill sergeant. So, for the first part of the film we see these attitudes developing in the soldiers. Those attitudes might have already been dwelling in the soldiers, but now they are being exploited.

Mike: What's interesting about this film is the racism is virtually erased by everyone being as offensive as possible. The problem with being politically correct is no one actually believes a janitor is equal to an engineer at NASA, and no meaningless terminology is going to convince them. What the core beats into their heads is that everyone is equal because they are all flawed in some way(s). In the end, it does not matter if this flaw is that you are a spic or a kike or whatever because there's something wrong with each person and one defect isn't better or worse to have than the next. The insults don't go away, but they take on a different meaning. They are something to pass the time, to distract from the reality of war, rather than something to take personally and kill each other over. A marine might call the guy next to him a nigger one minute, but the next minute he'd give his life for that nigger without hesitation. The effect of this on the film is that lines that would normally be offensive are instead just very funny because they are clever but aren't malicious.

Matt: That's what surprised me so much about this film. I've never seen so many racial bombs dropped like in this movie without any consequence. My friends and I talk to each other this way, which has horrified some of those outside our circle from time to time. That is why I found Spike Lee's criticism of Quentin Tarantino so ludicrous. The way Tarantino uses racial slurs is more of a form of rhythm for his dialogue, much like the way bad language is used in Full Metal Jacket. It loses its impact in this fashion and it almost becomes second nature. Not to mention, Spike Lee uses the same amount of racial slurs in his films, but somehow he feels he has a license to use it and Tarantino does not.

Mike: It seems like Spike Lee is so enfuriated by the rights whites have denied blacks that he gets silly. There is much to admire about Do the Right Thing, but I can't call it a great film when I'm Lee appears to be asserting that Mookie did the right thing by starting the riot that ruined Sal's Pizza. Yes, Sal was wrong to bash Radio Raheem's boombox, but Radio Raheem was also wrong to be blasting music Sal hated in Sal's restaurant. The main people that were wrong, as they often are in matters of race, were the police, who killed Radio Raheem. One could argue all night about who was more at fault between Raheem and Sal, yet the point will remain Sal should not pay for the police's mistake. And all this somehow leads to this silly mutual understanding scene where Mookie and Sal gain something they "never could have" achieved when they were content with one another and Sal thought of Mookie as his son. Lee will never answer the question, he uses the cop-out that not one black person has ever asked (to say that white people who question him don't get it), but the problem is no fair assessment of his film or his message can be made without asking it. The film that would have been great is if Lee just let the final night unfold the way it did, but lost his slant and ended it during or right after the riot.

Matt: This is where the key dynamic between Private Pyle and the drill sergeant is prevalent. Pyle is a "defect". He is not cut out to be a soldier and boot camp is slowly driving him mad, as both the drill sergeant and his peers push him around. Vincent D'Onofrio, who gained 70 pounds for the role, is excellent in his portrayal of Pyle. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is a revelation. He originally was a Marine sergeant during Vietnam and he steals every scene he is in. He was typecast in to this role ever since.

Mike: One of the best moves Kubrick made here was dropping the actor Ermey was supposed to be giving pointers to and turning the role over to Ermey himself. Ermey is quite simply THE drill sergeant. When one thinks of a drill sergeant, they see him right in a private's face pointing his finger and screaming insults. Ermey came up with most of the ones used in the film himself, too. There's a definitive shot early on after Ermey punches Private Joker in the gut for being a smart-ass. The camera is tilted up from the ground to show him towering over Joker and he's shouting down at him, "You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will learn by the numbers! I will teach you!"

Matt: Ermey almost seems inhuman in the way he treats his soldiers, but in a way he has to be in order for them to become the soldiers he wants them to be. We only see a glimpse of his "human" side right at the end of boot camp when he is congratulating his men on becoming soldiers and how they fit in to the tradition of the Marines.

Mike: Where virtually every other film goes wrong is they always want to see the person in charge as some kind of insane, inhuman monster. Full Metal Jacket understands that the drill sergeant is simply someone doing his job. Almost everything he says is offensive if taken at face value, with stereotyping insults left and right, but it's designed to motivate the soldiers rather than put them down, and every soldier other than Pyle can see that. Certainly drill sergeant is an unconventional job that calls for unconventional methods, but they are the methods of the military itself not one wacko with a God complex. I might not agree with them, but Kubrick allows us to see their purpose and effect, both positive and negative.

Matt: Matthew Modine's Private Joker is the pivotal role. He is the character we follow as the events around him unfold. Modine does a good job of portraying his struggle to fit in, while at the same time questioning some of the values of the Marine Corp. He is there when both Pyle and Cowboy die. In both cases, he is almost a helpless spectator.

Mike: Modine is at his best here because he's allowed to be natural and laid back. His acting is far more in the French tradition than in the show-offy Hollywood mode, but the problem is there's nothing that draws you to him. He has no persona or charisma and just comes off as dull if he's the focus, which he luckily isn't here because he mainly just looks on at the events that transpiring around him. He's often pretty funny here, but it's more because the screenplay is so exceptional. For instance, his reason for joining the war effort is particularly strong satire. "I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and…kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill."

Matt: That is my favorite line in the film. I would tell people that was my motivation for wanting to join the army. Modine seems to really be in his element here. I cannot think of any roles of his that stand out. I saw a documentary on Kubrick on BBC America, and Modine said that Kubrick asked him why he was so frustrated on the set. Modine's reply was that he did not know what Kubrick wanted. Kubrick then replied "I just want you to be yourself." I have a feeling that Modine is himself in this role and that is why he just looks so natural. It definitely is more of a New Wave form of acting.

Matt: The first part of the film ends with the last evening of boot camp when Joker finds Pyle loading a rifle in the bathroom. It is here where the eerie synthesizer music is cued. Every time there is some sort of tension in the film, the same synthesizer number plays, meaning we've reached some sort of turning point. In this sequence it is utilized to transfer from boot camp to Vietnam. Joker is caught in a confrontation between Pyle and the drill sergeant. He watches helplessly as the drill sergeant is gunned down and then Pyle shoots himself in the head. When Sergeant Hartman is shot, Kubrick uses slow motion to great effect to show the impact of what is actually happening. Unfortunately, today slow motion is completely overused, with its effect being diminished. When Kurosawa, Sam Peckinpah and Kubrick first used slow motion it was to show the impact of violence. Now it is just something that is in every action movie or music video without any rhyme or reason because it "looks cool."

So boot camp is over, that's 45 minutes of the film. It almost feels like a long short film. Now we are brought in to Vietnam, which I think is just as intoxicating as the first part. Here, Kubrick ironically shows the beauty of urban warfare. Considering he used to be a photographer, it seems like he shoots this part like a "Life" magazine spread. He gives every shot room to breath. When machine gun fire is spraying buildings, tearing them apart, it usually is done in long takes. The editing is methodically paced, letting every scene play out naturally. Not just in the war scenes, but in the acting as well. Kubrick always gave his actors breathing room. He never marred the performances with coverage shots but usually just remained with master shots, letting the actors do their job.

Mike: I thought there was much more "beauty" in the bootcamp scenes, particularly the great tilt up into an orange sunset of the men climbing ropes. The most brilliant sequence of the film happens in Vietnam though when Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) goes into battle for the first time. Here, Kubrick uses a series of dollies and pauses to match the soldiers' method of moving in on the enemy.

Matt: In the Vietnam portion of the film, we see how the attitudes developed during boot camp materialize in the actual war setting. The first scene in Vietnam has Joker and his new partner, Rafterman, being approached by a prostitute. Rather than shrug her off, a negotiation takes place. As soon as a deal is reached, Rafterman's camera is stolen by a pickpocket who urges the soldiers on with a kung fu demonstration. Joker, replies with his own ill-conceived imitation. So here we see two attitudes in play, women as objects and mocking the local behavior (slight racism). The Vietnamese are never referred to by their nationality but rather by their "nickname" (gook).

Mike: We have a third attitude, which is the Asian playing up a stereotype that in this situation favors him (by the way he does it, it's obvious he lacks these skills). As all Asians are some kind of martial artists, Joker & Rafterman better not chase after the thief or he might have to pull out his Chinese stars (despite being Vietnamese) or something.

I was more impressed by the other scene with a hooker. War is usually about two groups of people that do not understand one another, but one of the biggest problems with war films is they only show things from the perspective of one of those sides, the "good guys", as if that side is universally moral and right. While most of Full Metal Jacket does the former, it never does the later. It does occasionally put a face on the other side, both with the hookers and with the sniper, although neither would quality as the average Vietnamese that we need to see. Here, we get a scene where the Vietnamese prostitute is willing to do anything the American soldiers want for a little money from each, but she's willing to jeopardize all that money because of some misinformation. She envisions the "soul brother" being so big that he won't even fit inside her, and he has to whip it out to prove reality from myth.

Matt: After we see Joker and Rafterman operate in their environment, their base is suddenly attacked on the evening of the "Tet Festival", the Vietnamese equivalent of Chinese New Year. Working as a journalist for the armed forces newspaper "Stars and Stripes", Joker exclaims, "I ain't ready for this (war)." He is then thrust in to the bowels of war by going on assignment, with Rafterman, to accompany a unit that is in combat. This is where Joker is reunited with Cowboy, someone he has not seen since boot camp. He is then introduced to Cowboy's fellow soldiers, the most memorable being Animal Mother played to great effect by Adam Baldwin. Baldwin's character does not seem balanced. He is effective in war but what will become of him when the war is over?

Mike: When we are first introduced to Animal Mother, Private Eightball (Dorian Harewood) has a great line to ease the tension between him and Joker that's already about to boil over. "You might not believe it, but under fire Animal Mother is one of the finest human beings in the world. All he needs is somebody to throw grenades at him the rest of his life." Though we never see the soldiers return to the states, it's easy to see why they can no longer function in that or any other peaceful environment. Perhaps what needs to be done is for the returning soldiers to be put through 8 more weeks of hell where they unlearn everything they were taught to be mean marine killing machines and relearn everything they forgot about being civilians?

Matt: Actually this is a big concern in the military right now. Soldiers return a lot quicker from war than they used to, and its having negative results like those string of wife murders at the Army base in North Carolina. Back in World War II soldiers stayed 3 months before they returned home, and it gave them time to unwind and just play baseball in Austria. They slowly readjusted to the real world. Now we're having Delta Force get on a plane on Tuesday, do their mission on Thursday and get home on Sunday. Well not quite, but they are being pin balled between war and civilian life a little too quickly these days.

Matt: This all leads in to the climatic scene where the unit is ambushed by a sniper. Here the ineffectiveness of Cowboy as a leader is illustrated. He has just been forced into the position by default and he cannot keep control of his unit. After a few soldiers are picked off, Animal Mother takes over the pack to eliminate the sniper. When they reach the ruins of the city, Cowboy is shot and slowly dies. The death of Cowboy is a highly effective scene. We have seen him since training, and now we are faced with his slow agonizing death. He did not die cowardly; he just got killed doing his job. There is real emotion in this scene. It is not marred by a sentimental music cue; we just hear the static noise of the battlefield.

Once they get in to the building where the sniper is hiding out, it is revealed the sniper is a woman. She is shot in a blaze of gunfire and lays in agony whispering a Buddhist prayer, while the soldiers tower over her, deciding her fate. Once again, the eerie synthesizer music is cued. There is tension between Joker and the rest of the surviving unit, particularly Animal Mother. Joker wants to mercifully kill her rather than see her suffer, but the others want her to die slowly so Joker is forced to do it himself. With a painful expression on his face, he shoots her dead. Kubrick does not exploit the shooting by showing the girls chest spit blood as Joker's bullets ravage her. We just see Joker's face as the gun is fired. The scene is about Joker, not about the sniper.

Mike: Kubrick achieves his goal of letting the audience decide through the use of conflicting scenes. One of the most powerful scenes has Joker and Rafterman riding along in a helicopter with the machine gunner. The setup is brilliant because we imagine the sniper shooting at a troop of enemy soldiers, but eventually we get a brief glimpse that reveals there are only a bunch of unarmed peasants, who may not even be enemy peasants. The disaffected gunner explains, "Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who stands still is a well disciplined VC." Joker asks how he can shoot women and children and he responds, "Easy, ya just don't lead 'em so much, ha, ha ha! Ain't war hell?" The simplistic response to the above scene is to be infuriated, but this later scene with the woman sniper really complicates things. It makes one consider where the line must be drawn, how an innocent is differentiated from a dangerous enemy.

Matt: Immediately after that scene, we see the whole unit, along with Joker, singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song. Joker's narration, which comes in only a handful of times in the whole film, states, "We have nailed our names in the pages of history enough for today. We hump down to the Perfume River to set in for the night…I am so happy that I am alive, in one piece. In short, I'm in a world of shit . . . yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid." The credits then roll to the tune of the Rolling Stones "Paint it Black." The ending monologue is really indifferent. It does not judge the events that have taken place throughout the film. All it suggests is that it has altered Joker's character somewhat. If it was for better or worse is for the audience to decide.

Mike: It suggests that Joker has learned that no matter what the situation, it's always better to be alive. Whether you think that's putting himself above the effort or distancing himself from the effort or realizing you can't further the effort if you aren't around anymore or whatever is up to you.

Matt: In the pantheon of war films, I do not know where to place Full Metal Jacket. On the cover of the laser disc, it quotes some critic stating, "the greatest war film ever made". That may be going a little too far, I for one am not a big proponent of anything being "the greatest", because everything has its own character and different things appeal to different people. However, of the Vietnam films, this one is my favorite. I prefer it to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now because it seems Coppola just wanted to use Vietnam as an artistic landscape to show a bunch of pretty and surreal images, while using what was in fact an action movie script penned for his buddy George Lucas by John Milius. I prefer Full Metal Jacket to Oliver Stone's Platoon as well. Stone's films have always been a little too political for me to take him really seriously. He is a supremely talented filmmaker and he does not hide the fact he is there to put forth his agenda. However, Platoon does not feel real to me, Full Metal Jacket seems more genuine.

Mike: I don't think Apocalypse Now is even a good film. On one hand it's ambitious, but on the other the only thing Coppola had to say is war is surreal, which could easily be done in 5 minutes rather than 2 ½ hours. The fact that people take this male fantasy seriously and think it makes some kind of grand statement about Vietnam never ceases to amaze me, especially since the Vietnamese perspective isn't even considered and the film descends into a bunch of jumbled macho bullshit once it shifts from "asking questions" to making foolish conflicting assertions when Brando's abstraction shows up. I have no problem with people enjoying violent action films, but to call this any more than a high-end theme park ride that glorifies and romanticizes the cool white men's slaughter of the "evil" (justified through a lie about them chopping arms off just vaccinated children) is a mistake.

Stone could benefit from being a more subtle, from pursuing the hellish nature and absurdity of situations like Samuel Fuller rather than making his stance so obvious. At least he's not toning down or completely shying away from what's going on or making some more popcorn escapism. Though I don't always agree with what he has to say, I respect Stone because he makes films for a reason; he has something to say about the world and wants to tackle a real issue he believes in.

Matt: I agree. And I have rarely agreed with Oliver Stone's stance on anything, but I highly enjoy some of his films for the reason you mentioned above. JFK could have easily been a popcorn film, but it was challenging and entertaining at the same time. All of Coppola's films feel like Hollywood films to me with some artistic touches. I mean, the Godfather was based on a dimestore novel!!!! It's entertaining, but what makes it better than other high profile crime films like LA Confidential? Scorsese's films cover organized crime more realistically and smarter than any of the Godfather films. Apocalypse Now was written by John Milius and he is unabashedly a male romanticist (look at Conan the Barbarian or any other film he directed for that matter), but at least Milius will admit it and not try to hide behind the concept of "art."

Matt: According to those around him, Stanley Kubrick did not want to make another film like his previous war effort, Paths of Glory. That was an obvious anti-war film. With Full Metal Jacket, he wanted to explore the aspects of war. This led to the main focus on the average soldier, as they are pretty much forced to explore war with all the trials and tribulations. At times they are misogynist and racist, but at other times they exert extreme bravery. This is what Kubrick follows in Full Metal Jacket. From their education at boot camp and into the battlefield where their developed attitudes run rampant, we follow the soldiers through the positive and negative aspects of their training and the effect war puts upon them.


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