The duality of being a U.S. Marine—to train to kill but also be expendable—is captured with cold, hard irony in Kubrick’s clinical take on the (Vietnam) war movie.
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1987 | UK/USA | Drama/War | 116 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Vietnamese
M18 (passed clean) for bloody violence, coarse language and strong sexual references
Cast: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio
Plot: A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.
Awards: Nom. for Best Adapted Screenplay (Oscars)
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Slightly Heavy – Dehumanising aspects of war
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
A year after Oliver Stone made the Oscar-winning Platoon (1986), Stanley Kubrick got his hands dirty in the war genre as well, covering a similar subject matter—the Vietnam War. I’ve seen Full Metal Jacket a few times already and loved it with every revisit.
However, this time around, I watched it having more knowledge about the incredibly polarising war that I learnt from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s extraordinary 16-hour documentary series, The Vietnam War (possibly the most essential take on ‘Nam ever produced).
Kubrick’s work dramatises effectively a small part of the Tet Offensive, one of the war’s most brutal milestones, in the film’s second half as experienced by a platoon of street-fighting Marines in Hue.
“Bullshit, I can’t hear you. Sound off like you got a pair!”
But it is the first half of Full Metal Jacket that borders on the legendary, with the scene-chewing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey in full foul-mouthed glory) giving one verbal tirade after another as new recruits enter the harsh boot camp training.
In the film, one of the characters attempts to explain the duality of war after getting caught wearing a helmet that says ‘Born to Kill’ and a pin with a peace symbol.
In a similar vein, one might try to dissect Kubrick’s film as a treatment of the duality of being a U.S. Marine in the context of the dastardly war, that is to train to kill, but also be expendable at the same time.
This is, of course, depicted with cold, hard irony, as Kubrick’s clinical and precise take on the genre proves to be at times harrowing and intense, yet also gleefully vulgar and violent, capturing the experience of ‘Nam in its true visceral madness.