Full Metal Jacket (1987)
From one of the greatest & most influential filmmakers of all time, Full Metal Jacket is Stanley Kubrick’s uncompromising examination of the tactics used by the military in order to transform its newly recruited marine corps into killing war machines and captures the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War had on soldiers through the eyes of Pvt. Joker, who is also the narrator of the film. Full Metal Jacket is not really a war film. It does not even qualify as an anti-war film either. Kubrick earlier showed the futility & irony of war in his breakthrough feature, Paths of Glory, but with Full Metal Jacket, he sets out to answer the question which most war films generally skip over; what does it take to transform a normal human being into a remorseless assassin?
Based on Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel, The Short-Timers, and set during the years of Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket is a two segments story. The first segment concerns a new batch of US Marine Corps recruits who arrive at Parris Island for basic training under the command of Sgt. Hartman, their strict, disciplined & foul-mouthed senior drill inspector. Hartman employs a rigorous training regimen to turn his recruits into marines ready for combat and is severely harsh & unforgiving on a dim-witted & overweight recruit whom he nicknames Pvt. Pyle. Under Hartman’s hardship, Pvt. Pyle does show improvement but also loses his sanity in the process leading to a chilling confrontation. The second segment follows Joker, one of the recruits, and covers the transformation he undergoes during the Vietnam War.
Stanley Kubrick is one director who, throughout his career, never compromised with his work nor let anyone do it. A rare director who took as much time he desired to shoot & edit a film to match his vision makes Full Metal Jacket work perfectly on so many levels that it succeeds as one of the finest depictions of dehumanization on film canvas. Kubrick’s direction is absolutely flawless in the first half but it stumbles very much in the second half only to rise again during its nail-biting climax. Cinematography has always been influential in Kubrick’s films & this motion picture is no exception as its POV camerawork in the film’s climax can be observed in many later war films, most notably Saving Private Ryan. Editing keeps the momentum going for the major part of the film. And considering everything that went into the making of this film, it easily qualifies as one of the most technically sound films of its genre.
Full Metal Jacket features several unforgettable characters & the cast consisting of Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey & others deliver amazing performances which elevates this film to a much better status than it would’ve been otherwise. Matthew Modine plays Pvt. Joker, who joined the US Marine Corps to see combat and the movie is, on a superficial level, his story. D’Onofrio devotes himself completely to his character of Pvt. Pyle & does a remarkable job in rendering the transition of his character from a naive & clumsy recruit to a pure psychopath. But the real highlight amongst the cast is Lee Ermey as Sgt. Hartman and thanks to his powerful, intense & show-stealing screen presence, his performance easily ranks amongst the most dominating, impressive & extraordinary portrayals in cinema. He is punishing, mean, sarcastic & clever but when you consider his job of turning random men into heartless killers so that they can survive the horrors of war, this character becomes fully justified.
The theme Full Metal Jacket deals with isn’t simply the futility of war but are issues that are pretty universal. The entire film, on a closer look, is a study of duality. The two segments this film is divided into are completely different in their plot & treatment. The characters, during their arrival in Vietnam, are neither entirely compassionate humans nor cold-hearted assassins and are clearly battling moral dilemmas. Pvt. Joker wears a peace symbol on his jacket while ‘Born to Kill’ is written on his helmet. And there are many more references of duality like that. Also, the first half of this film clearly outshines the second half in almost every filmmaking department because of which it might disappoint few viewers. Still, there are very few war films out there which so excellently display the gruesome effects war has on human psyche and Full Metal Jacket is unquestionably one amongst them. In the words of Joker, it tells how important a human life is & how lucky it is to be alive and, on an overall scale, it is one of Stanley Kubrick’s most tightly crafted films that is aesthetic, artistic & influential in every possible manner.