“Let me see your war face!”
We all know that Kubrick had a love for making anti-war movies, with his first two well known movies being Dr. Strangelove and Paths of Glory. Full Metal Jacket is another amazing film that shows the hard brutality of war, but in a different way than Kubrick’s others. With this movie, there is less talking and more showing. Kubrick decides not to blatantly tell us about the cruel reality of war, but instead decides to put us in the “action” with the soldiers and have us experience it as if we were there.
Full Metal Jacket is separated into two parts. The first half of the film shows us new recruits being trained under Sergeant Hartman, where we probably don’t go two minutes without hearing his harsh barrage of screaming insults and orders. We see these men go from who they once were, to being trained to become killing machines. They have one job now, and that is to kill. The second half of the movie is devoted to observing soldiers that are actually in the action of Vietnam. Although always a risky move for a director to do, Kubrick does it flawlessly and we are able to see the connection between the two parts and know of their purpose.
Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) is the link between the two halves of the movie. A perfect balance between “the joker” and a hardened marine, he is a very suitable lead for us to follow. Although he is the center of the second half, the first half is dominated by Pvt. Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). His story is one that is disturbing and sad. At the beginning of the movie Pyle seems like an innocent, easy-going fellow, and by the end of the first act he is far gone from who he used to be without even seeing a minute of actual warfare.
Although D’Onofrio and the Drill Instructor’s performances, played by R. Lee Ermey, are very impressive and almost chilling, we still get the feel that the movie isn’t about the characters. It’s about the situation these characters are in, and even the dehumanization of the characters because of war. The first half of the movie was probably my favorite. The second half was powerful but felt less climatic to me.
This movie reminded me a lot of Paths of Glory although they are set during different time periods. This just goes to show that the message Kubrick is trying to send is still relevant even today, even regarding the war currently taking place in the Middle East. In Paths of Glory, Kubrick showed us that the enemy can be within our own borders during wartime and this message is shown again in Full Metal Jacket. This time though, the enemy is within the characters themselves. In a war that the soldiers themselves can’t even name the reason for, their sole job is to destroy the enemy. Pure killing is somehow the way to achieve peace. This idea is reflected by the peace pin that Joker wears on his uniform in contrast to his helmet which reads “Born to Kill”. This was at least how I interpreted it.
In terms of amazing action sequences and explosions, this isn’t the best war movie. But in terms of pure emotion and showing the reality of war, this is definitely one of the best war (or anti-war) movies. Sure, another movie such as Saving Private Ryan was amazing both visually and in it’s story, but Full Metal Jacket doesn’t want to rely on those action scenes. Instead, it wants to reveal the true atmosphere of the Vietnam war. If you were like Joker, you didn’t see action and bullets flying every day, but when you did it was terrifying. When you did, it was a reminder that this is war. And war is hell.