(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
- For the type of ammunition, see Full metal jacket bullet.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. The film is named after the full metal jacketed bullets used in military ammunition.
The film portrays the Vietnam War from the point of view of the US Marines. Recurring themes are the contradictions of war, a constant feeling of being out of one's depth, and the idea of combat in Vietnam being part of a different world, with its own rules and customs. The miasma of confusion and angst of the new world begins in boot camp, and spirals down into bloodshed before even landing in Vietnam.
In the aftermath of this film a series of policy changes came about in what was considered acceptable behavior by a Drill Instructor in the United States Marine Corps. All references to a recruit's family are absolutely forbidden, as is striking a recruit.
The movie was shot on the camp ATR Bassingborne near Norfolk in the United Kingdom and is now used today to train British army recruits aged 16-17. The open country is Cliffe marshes, also on the Thames, with palm trees imported from Spain. While this was reasonable for the urban nature of the Tet Offensive, it was also influenced by Kubrick's aversion to air travel.
The protagonist of the film is Marine recruit J.T. 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine), who is part of a group beginning basic training as a Marine on Parris Island, SC.
The brutal command of Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by former Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor) shows the harsh indoctrination of Marine recruits. The training is depicted as designed to eliminate virtually all trace of the recruits' individual personalities and transform them into killers (to "keep Heaven packed with fresh souls"). This first section of the film focuses largely on how the brutal treatment of overweight misfit Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) results in him losing his sanity. The first half of the film culminates in Lawrence murdering Hartman, then killing himself, after the platoon has graduated as full-fledged Marines.
Crazy Earl expresses his views of the war.
The second part then takes place in Vietnam, focusing on 'Joker', who is now a Sergeant and a Stars and Stripes war correspondent in a Marine public information unit. 'Joker' soon becomes familiar with both the horror and the absurdity of the war. He and a photographer nicknamed Rafterman are sent "into the shit" to cover the Tet Offensive. Joker's helmet decoration – the slogan "Born to Kill" – and the Peace symbol pin on his uniform exemplify his moral ambiguity. In one scene Joker is confronted by a Marine Corps Colonel (Bruce Boa), demanding to know why he has a peace symbol on his uniform and "Born To Kill" on his helmet. Joker mentions the duality of man theory postulated by Carl Jung; the Colonel questions Joker's patriotism and demands that he shape up, threatening to "take a giant shit" on him if he does not.
Joker joins his friend Cowboy and his squad on patrol in the city of Hué. A vicious battle breaks out and the city, already crumbling from previous battles, is practically leveled. One of the film's standout sequences shows the squad being interviewed individually by a television news crew and expressing their thoughts on the war. They also stand over the dead bodies of two of their unit and comment on what freedom means to the Vietnamese.
Cowboy's squad is called up for patrol again, this time north of the Perfume River (which divides the city of Hué), where Viet Cong forces are believed to be hiding. The squad becomes lost and a sniper, hiding among some abandoned buildings, wounds two of their comrades with the intention of sucking more of them into the trap. As the squad moves up to try to locate the hidden position, the sniper shoots Cowboy. With his marines by his side, Cowboy dies in Joker's arms. Using smoke to conceal their movements (effectively depicted with a hand-held camera running alongside the Marines), the squad moves in. Joker finds the sniper hiding in a room. At the critical moment his rifle jams and the sniper, a young Vietnamese girl, opens fire, pinning Joker behind a column, making it impossible for him to escape or shoot back. Suddenly, the girl is rippled by shots and falls; Joker's savior turns out to be Rafterman. As Joker, Rafterman, and Animal Mother gather around the girl she begins to pray, then begs the Marines to kill her. Joker and Animal Mother argue over leaving her to suffer. Animal Mother, now the ranking marine, prefers to "leave her to the rats." Ultimately, he allows a mercy killing, but only if the combat-deprived Joker performs it. He does.
The film concludes with the Marines' ironic rendition of the theme song to the Mickey Mouse Club as they march into the night. The film's end credits are accompanied by The Rolling Stones' Paint It, Black.
Synopsis of characters
Private/Sergeant "Joker" J.T. Davis (Matthew Modine) — The film's protagonist and narrator who claims to have joined the Corps to see action and to kill. He witnesses Pyle's insanity growing during boot camp but ostensibly becomes a "squared away" Marine. He later becomes a combat correspondent and links up with the Lusthog Squad to report combat incidents from the field. During his time with the squad, he witnesses the horrors of war. Frequently uses a John Wayne impression to diffuse tense situations.
Private/Sergeant "Cowboy" Evans (Arliss Howard) — Cowboy is a Marine from Texas who went through boot camp with Joker. He becomes an infantry grunt, encounters Joker again in combat, and is killed in action when a sniper shoots him from behind.
Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) — Rafterman is a combat photographer in Joker's PIO unit and so eager to see action he asks to accompany Joker into Hue. He seems somewhat naive and ready to believe anything.
Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin) — The nihilistic M-60 light machine gunner of the Lusthog Squad, Animal Mother is contemptuous of any authority other than his own and rules by intimidation. At first, he is contemptuous and scornful of Joker as a rear echelon Marine. Animal Mother believes victory should be the only object of war. (In the novel, he comes from New York City, and joined the Corps as an alternative to prison for auto theft.)
Eightball (Dorian Harewood) — An African-American in the Lusthog squad, sensitive about his ethnicity, and an ally of Animal Mother. Eightball is one of the more lively members of the squad. He is also angry at the South Vietnamese for not wanting to fight for their freedom. He dies when an enemy sniper shoots him repeatedly, a shot at a time, to bait the squad into trying to rescue him.
Doc Jay (Jon Stafford) — A Navy corpsman attached to the Lusthog squad. Doc Jay, like Animal Mother, is headstrong and willing to disobey orders under extreme circumstances. He is killed by the sniper when he tries to save Eightball.
Hand Job (Marcus D'Amico) — A member of the squad nicknamed for his habit of excessive masturbation, Hand Job exploited his habit to receive a Section Eight order to go home but is killed during a skirmish in Hue one week before being shipped out.
Donlon (Gary Landon Mills) — Another African-American in the squad and its RTO (radiotelephone operator). Along with Eightball, he views the South Vietnamese as ungrateful, and their ingratitude as an insult.
Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis) — The squad leader, he is forced to take charge of the platoon when their platoon leader is killed. A gung-ho Marine who feels that he belongs in Vietnam, Crazy Earl is killed by an exploding booby trap, leaving Cowboy in charge of the squad.
T.H.E. Rock (Sal Lopez) — A Latino member of the squad, generally quiet and a follower. He carries an M79 grenade launcher for the squad.
Murphy (Stanley Kubrick) — An unseen member of Cowboy's platoon coordinating fire support. During the final scene, he is unable to provide the Lusthog Squad with much-needed tank support. Only his voice is heard.
Lieutenant Walter J. Schinoski "Touchdown" (Ed O'Ross) — The platoon leader of the Lusthog squad, Touchdown played college football at Notre Dame, hence his nickname. He is killed during the advance into Hue by mortar fragments.
No-Doze and Stutten — Two other Marines in the Lusthog squad.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) — A stereotypical, abrasive drill instructor at Parris Island who mentally abuses his recruits to turn them into ruthless killing machines. He is killed by the mentally-unbalanced "Private Pyle". (The novel reveals that Hartman was a veteran of the Second World War and fought at Iwo Jima, a particularly brutal, bloody battle, to offer insight into his motivation.)
Leonard Lawrence "Gomer Pyle" (Vincent D'Onofrio) — An overweight and clumsy recruit in Joker's boot camp platoon, Pyle becomes the focus of Hartman's abuse for his incompetence and weight, and as an object lesson to the other recruits. After failing almost everything in boot camp, he "snaps" and starts to talk to his rifle, Charlene (Smooth, Charlene). Yet he begins to become the most disciplined recruit. The night of the platoon's graduation from recruit training, Pyle kills Hartman with his M14 rifle and a round of stolen ammunition ("full metal jacket bullet") before graphically committing suicide by putting the weapon's muzzle in his own mouth and firing.
Private "Snowball" Brown (Peter Edmund) — A Black recruit in Joker's boot camp platoon, ironically nicknamed "Snowball" by Hartman, and briefly Joker's squad leader.
Payback (Kirk Taylor) — A veteran correspondent with the Marine PIO unit, Payback brags that he has been "out in the shit" (combat) and tells Joker and Rafterman about the "Thousand Yard Stare."
Chili (Costas Dino Chimona) and Stork (Gil Kopel) — Other members of the PIO unit.
Lieutenant Lockhart (John Terry) — An officer and the head of Joker's PIO unit who acts as assignment editor. He has some experience reporting on combat but uses his rank to avoid going back into the field because of the danger and bugs, rationalizing that his duties keep him where he belongs, 'In the rear with the gear'. Joker taunts the lieutenant with wise-crack statements and wind ups in the field.
Pogue Colonel (Bruce Boa) — A Marine colonel schooled in "the last war" who encounters Joker near the grave of executed civilians and reprimands him for wearing a peace symbol button, suggesting that Joker be more enthusiastic about winning the war. Notably, "pogue" is a derogatory military slang term for rear echelon staff, with a meaning comparable to "coward"; it has also become a derogatory popular slang term meaning "asshole".
Although presented in dramatic style and adressing dramatic themes, elements of the movie come across as black comedy, including the intensity of the Drill Instructor in the first section and Joker's dialogue in the second section. The third section is grimmer, though the Mickey Mouse song briefly lightens the mood before the sombre "Paint It Black" plays over the ending credits, presented on a black field.
The movie includes a great deal of irony and satire of the military and the Vietnam war. One underlying element is the comparable power of words and ideas, crystalized first by the Drill Instructor, whose words hit as hard as his fists, and later in the scenes with Sgt. Joker's editor for "Stars and Stripes" (who perhaps unthinkingly follows the latest headquarters directive to change the term "search and destroy" missions against the VC to "sweep and clear", as this sounds less violent), and in the scene with the colonel where the Colonel asks if Sgt. Joker is on "our side" and is waiting for "this peace craze to blow over."
Although often said to contain two distinct parts, the film can be categorized into three. The first part is the training of new US Marine Corps recruits, culminating with the deaths of the Senior Drill Instructor and Pvt. "Pyle". The second part of the movie establishes Joker's role as a war reporter, working behind the lines during the Tet Offensive of 1968. In the third section, the focus shifts to a patrol searching through the bombed out city of Huế to root out a sniper. The sections are bookended by scenes of bargaining with prostitutes, and each section ends with shocking violence.
Irony runs rampant throughout the film. In the first section of the movie, the recruit training is supposed to train Marines to kill. But the initially innocent and naive Pvt. Leonard Lawrence (nicknamed Gomer Pyle) ends up killing the Drill Instructor, the very man who taught him to kill. During marksmanship training, the Drill Instructor's use of Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman as examples of the efficacy of Marine training provides more irony. Although both began as motivated Marines, both ultimately became notorious criminal killers. Near the beginning of the second part of the movie, Sgt. Joker is told an irony laced joke about "how to kill women and children." The final irony is that the product of the US Marine recruit training, the professional killers, are wiped out one by one by a small school girl who snipes them from a damaged building. Having injured her, the Marines then kill her with a mercy shot.
The movie also presumes the irony of providing freedom for the Vietnamese people by taking away the freedom of the American people, and the allegation made by some of the Marines that the Vietnamese don't seem to want their freedom.
There are several references to religion. In one of the scenes the Senior Drill Instructor asks Pvt. Joker whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. Pvt. Joker replies that he does not, and the Senior Drill Instructor, offended, strikes the Private, and asks him again, getting the same reply. After repeated blows, the Drill Instructor asks Pvt. Joker if he is deliberately trying to anger the instructor by reiterating his answer, and Joker replies that he believes the Drill Instructor will beat him harder if he reverses his position in the face of the abuse. The Drill Instructor then promotes Pvt. Joker to squad leader, not because of his answer, but for standing by his beliefs in the face of adversity.
An often seen criticism of the work was the setting, many critics feeling the use of locations in England being inappropriate to the film.
Also unusual is the cinematic decision to kill the Drill Instructor; if DI's were as brutal as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, the likeliest turn of events would be for recruits to die at their hands.
The episodic makeup of the film also comes under criticism, as in Roger Ebert's review in 1987.
- The movie disintegrates into a series of self-contained set pieces, none of them quite satisfying. The scene in the press room, for example, with the lecture on propaganda, seems to reflect some of the same spirit as "Dr. Strangelove." But how does it connect with the curious scene of the Vietnamese prostitute - a scene with a riveting beginning but no middle or end? And how do either lead to the final shoot-out with a sniper?
All of the music used in the film was written and recorded before 1968, as to be accurate to the time period the film is set in. The music included in the film is as follows:
- Stanley Kubrick provided the voice of Murphy, the Marine on the other end of the radio communication in the latter part of the film.
- Vivian Kubrick, Stanley's daughter, had an uncredited guest role as a News Camera Operator at the Mass Grave and contributed several tracks to the film's score under the name "Abigail Mead".
- Former US Marines Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was originally hired to give another actor hired to play Gunnery Sergeant Hartman the basics of giving a realistic performance as a Marine Drill Instructor. He performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse for fifteen minutes without stopping, repeating himself, or even flinching — despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
- To make Gunnery Sergeant Hartman's performance and the recruits' reactions as convincing as possible, Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio and the other actors playing recruits never met Ermey prior to filming. Kubrick also saw to it that Ermey didn't fraternize with the actors between takes.
- Despite the ambiguous stance concerning war and politics of the film, Full Metal Jacket remains one of the favorites of US servicemen. Viewing the film before departing for recruit training is a widely-followed ritual.
- If you pay close attention, Ermey rarely blinks at all in any of his scenes.
- Full Metal Jacket is one of the most widely sampled movies in industrial music. Samples from it, mostly lines from Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a Vietnamese prostitute and the Marines' Nightpray, appear in tracks by Ministry, Front Line Assembly, Fear Factory, Grendel, Killarmy, 2 Live Crew and Combichrist, among others.
- When Joker mercy-kills the Vietnamese sniper, as he psyches himself up to pull the trigger, his peace-button gradually disappears behind his body-armour while his "BORN TO KILL" slogan remains in full view, signifying, as he put it, "the duality of man."
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