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Full Metal Jacket
6 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Stanley Kubrick

Written By:
Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford

Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O'Ross, John Terry, Jon Stafford, Bruce Boa, Sal Lopez, Tim Colceri, Marcus D'Amico, Kirk Taylor, Kieron Jecchinis, Kirk Taylor, Ian Tyler, Gary Landon Mills, Ngoc Le, Peter Edmund, Tan Hung Francione, Leanne Hong, Costas Dino Chimona

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Full Metal Jacket (1987)
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Movie Review by Ezra
February 17th, 2007

Spoilers ahead:

Full Metal Jacket's objective, realistic perspective reflects the point-of-view of its protagonist and narrator, Private Joker (Matthew Modine), who goes through Marine-training to become a field reporter in Vietnam. Though Joker is a much more sane and rational character than Willard, he too is deeply corrupted by his experience, as he becomes more and more cynical throughout the film. As Joker says, in the persona of John Wayne, "A day without blood is like a day without sunshine."
This cynical loss of innocence is a cohesive underlying theme in the film, which, like Apocalypse Now, is a journey into the heart of darkness. This is established in the opening sequence, which shows its various characters having their heads shaved, set to the tune of Johnny Wright's "Hello Vietnam." Full Metal Jacket is, essentially, a coming-of-age story albeit a very brutal one that is divided into two self-contained, but connected, stories within the film.
The first story thrusts the viewer into the rigid, violent life of Marine training camp and, though Joker is established as the protagonist from the start, the central character of this story is actually Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio). Leonard, dubbed "Gomer Pyle" by drill instructor Sgt. Hartman (Lee Ermey), is a classic schoolyard bully's victim: overweight, slow-witted to the point of mild retardation, highly vulnerable and prone to crying under duress. Hartman, as a drill instructor, has made a career of being a bully, and the two immediately fall into this dynamic, with Hartman repeatedly choking, slapping and humiliating Leonard throughout the film. This story arc is easily broken into three acts: Leonard's humiliation, Leonard's education, and Leonard's revenge. Ironically, the completion of Leonard's education is the point at which he goes mad from the humiliation and abuse he has suffered at the hands of Hartman as well as the other recruits. Leonard finally snaps when Joker shows his first sign of corruption: after befriending Leonard and helping to educate him, Joker ultimately takes part in a ritualistic beating of Leonard after he and the other recruits are punished for Leonard's transgressions. At this point, the story moves into its third act, in which Leonard takes revenge on the bullying Sgt. Hartman, whose last words are more unrepentant bullying: "What is your major malfunction? Did your Mommy and Daddy not give you enough love when you were young?" (Full Metal Jacket). Ultimately, though, Leonard forgives Joker and spares his life before taking his own.
The title of the film comes from this first half, in a soliloquy Leonard gives for his rifle, which represents to him a measure of cleanliness and order in the "world of sh*t" in which he exists. This basically sums up the theme of the film, which is also indicated in its two-part structure: no matter how disciplined and structured a warrior's training and weapons may be, the war itself is still chaos.
This chaos runs rampant in the second half of the film, in which Joker finds himself in the midst of combat, at first as an outside observer reporting what he sees, but ultimately having no choice but to participate in the violence all around him. Like Apocalypse Now's Willard, Joker is somewhat on the fringes of combat, but still deeply effected and corrupted by it; while Willard is a hired killer working outside the main conflict of the Vietnam War, Joker is in the midst of this conflict but, in the beginning at least, not participating in any killing.
In Full Metal Jacket's second story, Joker is given a mission by his commanding officer, Lt. Lockhart (John Terry), which leads him into the heart of darkness, where he faces the ultimate corruption of his own heart (a microcosm for humanity as a whole) when he kills a young female sniper at the end of the film. Like Willard's assassination of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, this killing is an act of obligation, but both occupy the morally uneasy ground of vengeance; Kurtz's assassination is a cold, detached act of military revenge, while Joker's platoon collectively kills the sniper in a more heated, personal retaliation for her murder of their fellow soldiers. These differing perspectives are reflected in the tone of each film: Full Metal Jacket is a more visceral and real experience than the highly stylized Apocalypse Now.
Full Metal Jacket ends as it begins, with Kubrick's impeccably appropriate musical cues. The diegetic singing of the "Mickey Mouse Club Theme" by the platoon in the film's final shot brings the coming-of-age full circle, and the Rolling Stone's "Paint It Black" perfectly mirrors Joker's closing narration: "I am in a world of sh*t, but I am alive, and I am not afraid." He has clearly reached the heart of darkness; the only remaining ambiguity is whether his lack of fear is a result of his succumbing to the madness of war.

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Feb 17, 2007 4:06 PM
Nice review, totally agree with you about Kubricks music choice.....I love this film.

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