Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

09Mar10

Based on the first half an hour of Full Metal Jacket, it’s very easy to draw comparisons with another of Kubrick’s films, A Clockwork Orange. The latter is extremely hard to watch due to its vulgarity, and the fact Full Metal Jacket begins with little dialogue other than the repetitive bellowing from military men of ‘SIR, YES SIR,’ indicated this would be similarly, even if intentionally, tedious. And so the film progresses for a while. Kubrick refuses to inject any humanity into the opening training scenes, as exchanges between the drill instructor and his new recruits become increasingly disgusting. Private Pyle is mocked for his mental agility and physical weight, humiliated for his jelly doughnut craving and ultimately beaten by his fellow marines. He takes revenge, but only after undergoing mental breakdown, in which he talks to his rifle that the marines are encouraged to sleep with and name like its their girl. Just like in A Clockwork, we watch governmental institutions brainwash their citizens. The only difference being in Full Metal that these men weren’t awful beforehand, and it is the alienating process that leads them from being ‘ordinary’ to being desirous to kill the Vietnamese people in mass numbers whilst wearing ‘Born to Kill’ helmets. This is, alas, quite a revision of the American Dream that Springsteen had outlined.

The survivors of training camp are thus flown out to the madhouse, and for the rest of the film the massacre is exposed. Kubrick clearly wants to say that the American men sent out to fight were dehumanised until they could all largely kill without thinking. And this is indeed what we observe, through various fight scenes, with small interludes only being allowed for the picking up of the odd Asian prostitute or interviews with soldiers regarding the reasons they think America is out there.

As some kind of commentary and critique of the Vietnamese war, then, Full Metal and Kubrick largely succeed. The problem lies, however, in how entertaining this is. The answer, unfortunately, is not very. The opening scenes, whilst painful, are a masterpiece. But once the marines leave training and enter the real war, the film has little to offer other than an anti-imperialist message and the odd explosion. As such, it does not rank highly in Kubrick’s body of work. Just watch The Shining again, or Eyes Wide Shut.

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