Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is another iconic Vietnam War era film from the 80’s that is famously known for the colorful remarks of the Senior Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), and Kubrick’s portrayal of the grotesque, realistic, and non-romanticized occurrences of war.
The film begins at boot camp, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is in the process of turning recruits into well-disciplined, hardened Marines who are prepared for combat, by employing the typical draconian tactics of shouting slurries of insults in the direction of the new recruits and the occasional use of physical force. Unfortunately for one bumbling and clumsy recruit, Leonard Lawrence, who later receives the name of “Gomer Pyle”, attracts the wrath of the Drill Sergeant. Pyle’s torment persists throughout the recruits’ time at boot camp from not only the Drill Sergeant, but also his fellow recruits as well because of the “collective punishment” policy where every mistake Pyle made, the platoon was punished and not Pyle. Eventually, the rest of the platoon gangs up on Pyle during a hazing ritual, beating him with bars of soap wrapped in towels in the middle of the night.
Before even stepping into the Vietnam War, the audience is given a glimpse into what the formation of a soldier entails. In the case of Vietnam, majority of the recruits had no business, nor had any desire to be in the military, but by law of the draft were forced into service. Vast majorities were unable to deal with even the psychological abuse in boot camp and experienced mental breakdowns. This is demonstrated in the film when Pyle, fed up with his abuse, shoots his drill sergeant and then commits suicide.
One of the most important scenes in the film is a later scene between one of the original recruits, (Joker) who is confronted by a colonel on the battlefield about why he is wearing a piece symbol on his body armor, and a helmet with the inscription “Born to Kill”. Joker responds with a philosophical answer, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man”. Joker’s answer summarizes the clear moral dichotomy of war that is presented in Full Metal Jacket.
One of the more disturbing scenes in the film that captures the undiscriminating brutality of war, is when Joker and Rafter Man are being transported in a helicopter to the Tet Offensive Front and the door gunner is shooting at civilians in the rice fields, yelling “Get some” as men, women and children are struck by bullets. Sickened by what they are witnessing, Joker questions the man, “How could you shoot women and children?” To which the door gunner responds, “Easy, you just don’t lead’em so much! Ha ha ha… Ain’t war hell?”. If that’s not the mark of a psychopath, I don’t know what is.
Overall, Full Metal Jacket is another fantastic Stanley Kubrick film that brings yet another viewpoint and different film style of the Vietnam War to the big screen.