“I Am Become Death” reads the helmet Adam Baldwin (It’s hard to read here, but trust me). This anti-war tale from Stanley Kubrick takes place deep in the Vietnam war. And while half the movie takes place in the battle fields of Vietnam, half takes place in violence free America. Why would an action film take so long to get to the action, you ask? Well, mostly, because it’s not an action movie at all.
You see, Kubrick really made the film as an anti-war commentary, and as such, covered both sides of war. The film is really two films in one, split down the middle with only one character (The protagonist, Joker) bridging the two gaps. The first features boot camp for Joker and his pals. This is the part most people seem to recognize from the film, because it gave us this guy:
This half of the film showcases the brutality that was forced on every soldier by our own men. Never mind what the Viet Cong may have done to our boys, the drill sergeant in this film seemingly hoped to top it. He manipulated the men, turned them against themselves, while swearing and berating them every day. He may have had the best intentions for the men, but the unholy hell that he put Vincent D’Ofrino’s character through (see Private Pyle for just a little taste) causes him to snap, and shoot himself in the bathroom of the barracks. The scene of him loading his weapon before the act (an exquisitely slow scene that builds every single moment of tension possible) gives the film it’s name. But while this is the less violent, it is probably the strongest anti-war sentiment of the film. It showcases the mental instability that is enforced in the military to turn their men into killers.
And then, suddenly, we are knee deep in the war. Joker has chosen to become a field reporter, bringing news to the soldiers. He has never really been in conflict. He has never killed a man. He also wears a helmet which reads “Born to Kill” right next to a peace sign button. He claims that it is “something about the duality of man, sir!” After being dispatched for a story, he and a friend from boot camp (whose name escapes me…watch the movie and let me know what his name is!) end up trapped behind enemy lines and getting lost, with a contingent of men featuring “Animal” (The man you see at the top of the article). Animal is the perfect example of a soldier. He has started enjoying the killing. And he understands this. He even comments on the fact that there is no home for him. At the end of the film, a single sniper holds the contingent at bay, killing multiple people (including Joker’s friend, and captain). Eventually, Joker and a couple of other soldiers make their way into the building where the sniper hid, revealing that it was a woman in her youth. Joker is forced to shoot and kill her to preserve his own life, and then everything ends all hunky dory. Or, you know, traumatizing.
I did not describe the plot to bolster my word count, or to ruin everything. I did it to make a point. The entire 2 hour and 45 minute film was about Joker becoming a soldier. THE ENTIRE THING. You spend 2 hours and 45 minutes meeting hundreds of characters, only to realize that none of them really matter. What matters is Joker’s growth as a character. And while you might think that it is a waste of time for that little pay off, you would be wrong. The entire film, from start to finish, is riveting to the point of madness. Every character plays a different bit part in the sweeping performance of the war, and brilliantly creates Kubrick’s argument for the destruction of war and expansion of western civilization. And, of course, the song that caps the film (that you are currently listening to) is the perfect cap to the film. Note: You have NOT been listening to this song, because my computer will not allow me to go through the proper channels to upload videos and audio (or I’m an idiot…probably the latter). Find the song right here…It’s a must: Mickey Mouse Song (Warning Swears).
Below is a link to an analysis of the film that I found incredibly interesting: