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Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Violence and Gore, profanity and drug use
Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O'Ross
Stanley Kubrick, Gustav Hasford, Michael Herr
A Marine is followed from basic training to the 1968 Tet offensive. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) | Review
Who Is Your Master?
In the first half, we are thrust into boot camp right along with a new, fresh batch of recruits. For the first fifteen minutes of Full Metal Jacket you will experience a solid wall of ingeniously phrased profanity and systematic re-socialization of the boys at the hands of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). Here we see relentless examples of the Marine Corps' goal (in Kubrick's eyes) to strip away the identities of these young men and replace them with the hearts of killers. As Sergeant Hartman trains the recruits, he uses a number of brutal tactics from outright physical abuse to more devious sociology. All of this process is seen most effectively through Private Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio). At first Sgt. Hartman assigns Private Joker (Matthew Modine) to oversee the struggling and overweight Lawrence. But as Lawrence continues to make mistakes, Hartman eventually turns the troops against Pyle by punishing them each time he messes up. The slow process of institutionalization works its devious ways and all of the men turn against Pyle. He finds his gifts as a marksman, however. Hartman will succeed in turning his men into killers. But Pyle's fate is one of the most profoundly harsh tales I can ever recall seeing.
There are sequences of Pyle being abused and tormented by his fellow recruits, as well as by the drill sergeant, which have haunted me since my teenage years when I first saw the film. As a matter of fact, the entire first half of Full Metal Jacket was essentially etched in my brain and I remembered it well all these years later.
The second half of Full Metal Jacket follows Modine's character (now Sergeant Joker) into Vietnam. We sort of go where he goes in a more free and floating structure that culminates in a set piece where Joker's platoon is ambushed by a sniper. Upon finally smoking the sniper out and wounding her in the process, the soldiers discover that the sniper who killed some of their friends is, in fact, a young girl who is dying slowly and painfully. In a masterfully tense sequence, Sergeant Hartman's killer training succeeds once again as Joker takes the life of this young girl.
Full Metal Jacket is a master study in indoctrination and fundamental identity shifts. Every moment of the film builds and builds on Kubrick's ideas that the military strips young men of their prior lives and rebuilds them into something else entirely. Both Private Pyle and Private Joker successfully undergo a metamorphosis at the hands of Uncle Sam. And the results are haunting.
The concept of being stripped of your identity and given a new one brings to mind the question of who your master is. Hartman's goal as a Drill Sergeant was to take all the men and, no matter their previous allegiances, make sure that their master is the United States. Or better yet, the Marine Corps. At one point he even states, "You can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps."
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