I am a big fan of Stanley Kubrick, so it was only natural when I saw this assignment I would want to watch Full Metal Jacket. I watched Paths of Glory and enjoyed it, so I was excited to watch Kubrick take on another war film. Right away, I understood while still anti-war, this film was more serious than Paths of Glory. In addition, it was overall more accurate. My Father told me that my Uncle, a Marine Corp. verteran, described the first act, the training camp scenes, to be the most realistic portrayal he has seen in film. The Tet Offensive was also a real campaign that is seen in the movie. And the overall attitude of the film is very realistic. Whether it be the Southern Vietnam distrust of the US soldiers, or even the soldiers distrust of the American Government, the actions within this film are mostly accurate. The book itself was based on a real life account from a Vietnam Marine Corp. veteran, there is plenty of realism that translated to the movie.
In this film we follow a young, aloof Marine private, nicknamed Joker, through training camp to the real battlefield of vietnam. His time at training camp is brutal. He has an extremely harsh drill sergeant, and deals with a troubled trainee. To my surprise, when they announce roles when graduating, he gets assigned as a reporter for a Marine newspaper in Vietnam. After a few scenes of Joker reporting and running around Vietnam, he suddenly gets assigned to an infantry squad to be in the field due to a witty comment to his superior. He embarks on a surveillance mission with a former friend from training camp, only to be plunged headfirst in a world of “hell”, as they refer to Vietnam in the movie. Through these vulnerable moments however, we see Joker’s climax as a character.
A big notion of the Vietnam war is that it was futile, dishumane, and overall stupid. Kubrick does this well by exploring it through different characters and contrasting them. We see characters attacking each other, random citizens, and overall showing how individuals react to fighting in the war. The soldiers themselves often ridicule U.S. involvement in the war.
While this film overall is anti-war, I see it shedding notions of duality and is just deep dive into Joker’s character. Kubrick also said something similar when he commented on the movie saying “It’s not pro-war or anti-war. It’s just the way things are”. War is a strange creation of the human psyche. We all question what we fight for, why, and against who. These questions were very prominent during the war, and are seen in Joker.
Joker clearly is an example of the Jungian thing, or the duality of man, he even mentions this during a confrontation about his peace sign pin that’s paired along with the writing on his helmet reading “Born to Kill.” Kubrick creates a fascinating example of what many were thinking at the time. Wether you like it or not, humans often think of violent dark thoughts, that we repress and hide away. Instead, we put on a mask of peace, literally seen as Joker’s pin. Other characters do this as well, they put on some kind of act just to get through the war. I think Pyle’s character contradicts this, as he is willing to be vulnerable and let his dark thoughts get to him, which ends tragically. Joker’s character also can be seen as an example of duality in his difference to his fellow soldiers. He is clearly smarter, his glasses being an ode to this, and is very witty and aloof compared to the tough soldiers. But I think Kubrick wanted to destroy this notion or label of conflicting or good vs. evil thoughts, and just have them be human thoughts. This is seen in the climax of the film as Joker acts on a violent thought. He sheds his sympathetic self and becomes this animal (also a name of a character he was extremely different from) he never thought he would become. By doing this, Kubrick kills the sentiment of this movie being anti-war, and just makes it war.
P.S. It’s also interesting to note that Joker’s violent action may be seen as straight revenge, or by doing the victim. This paradox only adds more to the abstract sensation of what really is a war.