Full Metal Jacket is Stanley Kubrick’s examination of the Marine Corps: How it takes very different young men from very different walks of life & makes them very much alike in Parris Island (SC) Boot Camp, where they’re readied for combat – in this case, in Vietnam. They become Marines! “The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men. Men without fear! Men who make other men dead!” “And the dead know only one thing: It is better to be alive.”
Stanley asks us to consider if the Marines are brainwashing their draftees & recruits or keeping America safe? As with all of his films, there are no easy answers. We again find ourselves considering the human condition through characters in stressful, complicated situations. As he does in A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick has the main character, Joker (Matthew Modine) provides some introspection through narration. We follow Joker & Cowboy (Arliss Howard) through Parris Island to Vietnam. The bond they form in boot camp is undeniable, adding to the duality of the piece. And in case, when you watch it, you’re wondering if you’re off the mark in thinking so, Joker puts that issue to rest in Vietnam: “Born to Kill” is painted on his helmet; and he wears a Peace Sign Pin on his uniform over his heart. The movie is very much two separate pieces: Boot camp and Vietnam. Some other great performances in this motion picture: Vincent D’Onofrio as the intellectually disabled grunt, Pyle, who we meet in basic training; Adam Baldwin (no relation) as combat master Animal Mother, who we meet in Vietnam; and Lee Ermey, who plays the obsessed, dictatorial Drill Sgt. Hartman & gives all his “ladies” their nicknames.
Ermey was an ex-Marine Drill Sgt. hired as a technical adviser who wanted to play Hartman, but Stanley wasn’t interested. So Ermey videotaped himself berating some Royal Marines for 15 minutes while being bombarded with oranges & tennis balls from off camera. Kubrick watched the tape and when he saw Ermey’s focus – he never stuttered, tried to avert the projectiles or even squinted – he hired him.
The Vietnam War has long been a favorite topic of directors. There have been at least 107 movies, mini-series & documentaries about it and/or its after effects on the troops. produced in 16 different countries. The first, released in 1958, was Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American. The films have a total of 62 Oscar nominations & 25 wins; the wins include 3 for Best Documentary; 13 in the 8 major categories; 3 have won Best Picture – Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, and Oliver Stone’s Platoon. All 3 of those also won Best Director, which Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July also took but Best Picture in 1990 went to Driving Miss Daisy. Stone particularly loves the topic, as he also directed 1993’s Heaven & Earth. A few more great directors who explored the Vietnam War: My all-time favorite movie, Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder; Elia Kazan – The Visitors; Francis Ford Coppola – Apocalypse Now; Milos Forman – Hair; Robert Altman – Streamers; Barry Levinson – Good Morning, Vietnam; Brian De Palma – Casualties of War; John Frankenheimer of The Manchurian Candidate fame – Path to War; and, of course, the great Stanley Kubrick, who not only directed but co-wrote the Oscar-Nominated Adapted Screenplay to FULL…METAL…JACKET!!!