Full Metal Jacket is disturbingly intriguing and real, but that defines a Stanley Kubrick movie. Released a couple of decades after the Vietnam war, I’m sure it still resonated vivid for many, including R.Lee Ermey who played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and was also a real U.S. Marine Drill Instructor during Vietnam. This movie puts everyone on the same feelings while watching the movie. There are many points within in the movie, and within the points themselves, but ultimately this isn’t a patriotic movie nor one anti-war, it’s about being human.
Summary: During 1967 in the Vietnam War, new recruits are arriving at Parris Island for basic training. Upon arriving most the guys are young, and excited to explore. They haven’t recognized what they got themselves into though. After several weeks of training together, and even graduating the first cracks in sanity are beginning to show among some of the men, and one, Joker, witnesses it firsthand. The rest of the movie conveys the men in Vietnam fighting for a cause even they seem confused about.
The first half of the movie involves the training. Most might note this as their favorite part. Hartman provides many memorable liners, though I would hope I would never hear any of them repeated around me. In keeping with the realism of it though, Ermey ad libbed many things he had said as an actual drill instructor. Kubrick directs well in conveying the breakdown of one character nicknamed, Gomer Pyle.
The scene building up to the break of Pyle could easily be noted as one of the most memorable. While it was intense and kept me on edge I couldn’t help but think of earlier works like The Shining or A Clockwork Orange. It’s always done well when he conveys the breaking of the psych, but also I felt there were more unique moments and realizations in the movie. I think the oncoming breakdown of Pyle is obvious, but what it does to Joker not so much, who witnesses it firsthand.
I don’t think Pyle’s scene where he breaks is as much as it is about what happens to Pyle as it is what happens to Joker when he sees firsthand what he is already signed on to do, and the effects it will have on those around him. He stands loyally by his friends, but he approaches the leadership with skepticism. He embodies many feelings people had about the war, and shows they were also rising in those fighting it.
Joker perhaps justified what he was doing with a light and protective attitude regarding his friends, but he never becomes inhumane. I think seeing what can happen early on keeps him the most levelheaded though he is damaged.
The range of other characters make for an interesting mix up to the story. You have some who seem to have justified their acts in various ways. None seem to be quite patriotic anymore.. Most are fighting back in revenge, because they believe the Vietnamese are unthankful, some who seem to enjoy killing, and others who are just trying to survive. Whatever the reason the whole thing is a bad situation, and in their own human ways everyone is trying to cope. It’s not as much about the war as it is about the depths a human might plunder into without good reason to stay afloat.