on January 19, 2003
Stanley Kubrick has been quoted as saying that with Full Metal Jacket, he wanted to make a war film, as opposed to an ANTI-war film. Condemning war is easily. It's a moral no-brainer. Trying to understand its nature is something far more challenging. As a result, Full Metal Jacket does something far more subtle and difficult than simply tell us that War is Hell (although it does that, too). To understand what and how, one must consider the film's structure:
Full Metal Jacket is split brutally into two parts, the first of which follows our hero, Private Joker (Matthew Modine) through basic training at Parris Island. A tubby, slow-witted misfit named Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio in an effective performance) is pushed too hard by the sadistic drill instructor Hartmann (R. Lee Ermey), and ends up killing both Hartman and himself in the Grand Guignol blackout sketch that ends part one.
It is at this point that many people have trouble with Full Metal Jacket, as the second half jumps to Viet Nam with no warning. Although Joker and another character named Cowboy (Arliss Howard) carry over from the first part of the film, they never so much as talk about Parris Island or the murder-suicide that marked their training there. It is as though that event happened in another universe, or at least a different movie.
The key to this apparent gaffe in story cohesion is contained in a scene where Joker is confronted by a Major over having "Born to Kill" scrawled on his helmet at the same time he wears a peace symbol on his flak jacket.
"I was trying to say something about the duality of man," he says, "...the Jungian thing, SIR!"
Duality of man; duality of film. There are (in the film's developing thesis) two possible motivations for killing people and breaking things - compassion (to defend freedom and turn back despotism; our OFFICIAL purpose in Viet Nam), and annihilation (the perverse joy of revenge, of domination; of blood-soaked victory).
Which motivation is more "moral"? Which leads to the "high-ground"? Doesn't annihilation always entail moral decay? And doesn't compassion always lead, ultimately, to peace, rather than violence? Through Joker's journey, from killer-in-training to killer-in-fact, we get a disturbing answer that, by its very simplicity, defies the kind of dumbed-down platitudes most war films (even really good ones like Kubrick's own Paths of Glory) try to feed us. The end finds Joker facing a wounded, disarmed sniper who has killed several of his fellow soldiers, as well as his best friend. In a typically Kubrickian reversal, the sadistic thing would be to "...leave her to the mother-lovin' rats..." (in other words, leave her in PEACE), rather than finish her off, which seems the more humane choice (through a paradoxical act of VIOLENCE). The sniper, a teenaged girl, even begs Joker to shoot her. It seems a simple, humanitarian act when he finally pulls the trigger, but in a long, ambiguous close-up on his face, we see the same demon lurking in Joker's eyes that haunted Lawrence back in Parris Island, just before he killed Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, then himself. The connection is clear; even the same music cue (by Kubrick's daughter Vivian, under the pseudonym of "Abigail Mead") can be heard on the sound track. By setting up a situation where both possible choices (to kill or not to kill) seem at once sadistic and kind, virtuous and evil, we are forced to see the situation on a more abstract level - where words fail, but a horrible insight reveals itself. The nature of war, it seems to suggest, is the nature of mankind - and vice-versa.
Kubrick's production values are first-rate. The DVD looks and sounds quite good, given the source material (Kubrick's muted palette is deliberate; his original sound mix was a fairly compressed monaural track). One particular use of a Steadicam with a slightly longer-than-ideal lens is inspired, giving us a view shaky enough to seem "real" but smooth enough to be fluid.
In the Kubrick canon, Full Metal Jacket is a hotly debated film. Whether you love it or hate it, just remember: it's a Jungian thing.
on October 25, 2007
If you're a fan of this film like me and had bought the Blu-Ray or HD-DVD before and thought "This is hi-def?", then you're in for a treat. This newly remastered version has a sharper picture and better color image and new commentaries to boot. While not as stunning a transfer as "The Shining" or "2001", this is still a much improved re-release. Trade in your old copy and purchase with confidence.
on March 20, 2008
I spent 1992-2001 in the Marine Corps Infantry. And this movie is a favorite among Marines no matter where they are.
While I think that it is absolutely inappropriate for children, you will have to make that decision on your own as a parent. But be warned, the language in this movie is very harsh.
R. Lee Ermey plays the part of Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Seargeant Hartman (that's a mouthfull), his euphemisms, mannerisms and behavior are perfect. He absolutely nailed it.
If you've got any friends, relatives or acquaintances that are in the Corps, this is always a winner of a gift. Particularly if they are getting ready for deployment (ship life is a drag).
A caveat about reality...with the demise of conscription and the institution of the "all volunteer force," Drill Instructors no longer administer corporal punishment (i.e. they do not strike the recruits). Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a former recruit trying to embellish the experience (for amorous purposes no doubt), or smear the Marine Corps (for nefarious purposes no doubt).
on December 20, 2006
I was drafted out of college in 1968 when graduate school deferments ended. Yes, I know I could have avoided the whole thing just by swearing that I was homosexual or handicapped or by convincing my father to win a Senate seat. Alas, Dad was a World War II vet who worked for Ford and who thought it was about time I started acting like a man. And, I was young then and idealistic and it seemed important to me that year that I should share the same risks that other young men were being compelled to take.
At least, unlike so many of my peers, I have not since been forced to wonder what I missed. Because, I didn't really miss any of it.
Most of the war movies that have been produced since Vietnam have been made by men who have never heard a shot fired in anger and have been haunted by what they missed all their lives. For example, 'Saving Private Ryan' looks and sounds and feels nothing like war. I have always felt insulted by 'Apocalypse Now.' And, 'Platoon' sometimes looks like Vietnam but not usually and I don't really think Oliver Stone has anything more to say on the subject of that war that what Jane Fonda has already said a thousand times. And, I realize it is idiosyncaratic of me, but I also had a good friend named Jack Rambo who met a tragic and painful end in late November 1969 and so I have always been annoyed that Sylvester Stallone, who spent the war hiding in Switzerland, should not only give himself permission to appropriate my friend's name but go on to more or less slander all Vietnam Vets at the same time and then get rich by doing it.
But 'Full Metal Jacket' is very different from all these other Vietnam films. Most of the kids with whom I served were bright, funny, anti-authoritarian, ironic, tough and very dangerous. So are the characters in this movie. I have probably been asked a hundred times: "Well, did you ever actually kill somebody?" and then the inevitable, "Well what was it like?" Well, if you actually want to know, watch the smartass protagonist of this movie try to rise above the Marine Corps with his intellect and cleverness. Watch him go out with a patrol that gets lost--because really, you aren't actually in combat unless you're lost. Watch kids get picked off. Watch another kid do something really angry, stupid and brave. Watch them line up, pop smoke and go waste a slope. Then watch them skip home in the dark singing the Mickey Mouse song. That is pretty much what my war looked like.
The other day I heard our President say that he and Donald Rumsfeld had "been through a war together" these last few years. I think it haunts the President that he "missed" Vietnam. I once heard James Jones say, "I would never want my son to go to war but I would have to tell him that if he didn't go that not going would haunt him for the rest of his life." Now I live in a nation governed by men who are haunted by "not going." And, I think they could have saved us all a world of heart break if they had just watched this movie instead of having to prove what tough guys they are by invading Iraq.
Donald Charles Davis
on February 11, 2006
I served two tours in the Vietnam war and I am sometimes wary to watch a movie about it. My grandson told me about this movie and so I decided to watch it and see. Overall the movie at times seems embellished with hollywood but that does not mean they are stretching the truth, perhaps just adding some color to it. The boot camp scenes were all to familiar as I had a lot of memories come back doing pushups, situps, and getting yelled at for someone else's mistake.
The battle scenes were not far off but not accurate to be applied to all the men and women who were are in combat. The scene that stuck out in my mind was when the man called "animal mother" played by Alec Baldwin was wanting to go take out the sniper. Sometimes these things happen but all to often the first and foremost thing you want to do is make sure you don't get killed trying to be a hero and doing something stupid that could endanger you and your fellow marines around you.
There is a lot of comeraderie and this movie did a good job of showing that with the men. It also did show that some damn near do lose their marbles. Many people watching it probably found some scenes to be resentful or sickening. That they are, but one has to realize that it's another world over there in the war zone, and how you cope and are able to get through it sometimes would be deemed bad or wrong. It's easy to judge when your at home in your recliner, and not crawling over bodies in the mud while someone is shooting at you.
The film to me was emotional at the end as the men regrouped and headed out on patrol, where there will be another sniper waiting, another letter from home that won't reach it's recipient, and another friend lost to war. Full Metal Jacket embodies many things that were common in the Vietnam war.
on September 7, 2007
In response to the complaints made by some reviewers that Full Metal Jacket is not available in a widescreen ratio, the full screen ratio shown here was Kubrick's intended ratio for home viewing. Unlike many films that are shot and exhibited in a widescreen ratio, then cropped to a standard ratio for home theater release, Full Metal Jacket was originally shot in standard. For the theatrical release, the top and bottom of the film were cut off to create a widescreen aspect ratio. Then, for the home release, these excised portions of the film were returned. So the full screen dvd version of Full Metal Jacket actually has a larger picture than the widescreen release. If you really desire the widescreen aspect ratio, try out the blu-ray or hd dvd releases of the film. However, if Kubrick originally wanted the film to be released onto video with the standard ratio, have the blu-ray and hd dvd companies completely disregarded his wishes in favor of increasing sales by releasing the widescreen versions, or has the Kubrick family approved the change? One can only wonder
As a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, I have to disagree with Mr. Brennan's portrayal of the second half of this film. The war scenes were marginal at best and failed to capture the "realism" of war...Platoon was much better in that respect. Primarily because Oliver Stone was a veteran,himself. However the boot camp scenes in FMJ were dead on accurate. R.Lee Ermey played the Drill Instructor to perfection,as he should have, having been the very same in real life. I had several D.I.'s like this in boot camp and I can assure you, it WAS this way during the Vietnam war. I can laugh at the movie now, but while in boot camp it was no laughing matter, we were there to learn to fight and go to war, other skills were learned, but they were secondary. We had to be tough and they made sure we were. The boot camp portion was almost like a documentary to me! Having said all that, the movie was like two parts to me.The first half and the second half. With one being dead on and the other only so so and completely based on a Hollywood perception of what the war was like. For those who were not there, trust me...It was much different than this version. Overall, because of R. Lee Ermey's performance and Vincent D'Onofrio I give it 4 stars.
on June 5, 2005
Unfortunately for Kubrick this film was released in a time when all Vietnam war films were measured against Apocalypse Now. He entered a market that was already glutted. When I first saw it I was disappointed actually. Then I have reseen it, and reseen it, and reseen it. When most other Vietnam war films have dated this one still has freshness and strength. Kunrick manages, as usual, to capture the dreamlike surreal character of the training of the recruits and the war itself, without ever losing the documentary feel of the film. Only a true genius can do that. Private Joker is not really the hero of the film, he is the observer we follow. He tries to observe the war from a distance, through his camera, never really participating, keeping an intellectual distance. It is not until he fires the final fatal shot he truly understands what is going on. Only by becoming a beast does he have any hope of surviving.
Another tribute is that everyone can watch it; anti-war protesters and marine veterans alike.
There is only one true battle sequence, and that is a kind of inverted siege, instead of the protagonists being botteld up in a house (a safe palce, a Freudian womb) by forces of chaos outside, which is the usual Hollywood fare, the marines need to get into the old factory and get the sniper before they are all picked off. An interesting role reversal, and food for thought.
This film is heavy on symbolism and subtle messages. But they are all timeless, dealing with the nature of war and of humanity, and therefore the film does not age.
on January 5, 2010
I mainly bought this for the nice little featurette explaining some of the details of how this movie was made, and for the commentary track, featuring actors Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin, and critic Jay Cocks.
D'Onofrio seemed to have the most commentary, while I was a bit disappointed to hear so little from the man who made the most lasting impression to me with this movie, R. Lee Ermey.
I was also a bit puzzled about why the producers of this DVD did not manage to get commentary from the man who played the central character in the movie, Matthew Modine.
I am afraid that I am probably unable to determine if the video/audio quality were improved, but I AM qualified to say that the widescreen of this is a cheap trick, intended to fool buyers into thinking they are getting an enhanced product.
The reason I have that criticism is because Stanley Kubrick originally filmed this movie in 4x3 aspect ratio, NOT in the now commonplace 16x9, so the way they made this "widescreen" was to chop off the top and bottom of the image, resulting in LESS instead of more image area.
It is for that reason that I will hang onto my original non-deluxe edition of this movie, which is in its full and proper 4x3 ratio.
Those considerations aside, this remains one of my favorite movies ever, especially for the first 45 minutes, which are probably the best depiction of how a boot camp operates, minus the physical violence from the Drill Instructor and racial slurs.
I heard many of the exact same profanities from my Navy company commanders over 20 years ago, and this takes me back to when I was still young.
The second half of the movie is quite different, although the character of "Joker" retains that sardonic attitude and wry grin throughout.
I also appreciate that Kubrick did not turn this into an anti-war vehicle or other kind of preachy commentary, instead describing how there is much gray area in combat, particularly when the combatants are fighting to survive.
Excellent movie, but this DVD should have retained the full frame, and it really was a pity that Modine is nowhere to be found in the extras.
on July 11, 2003
To call this a "war film" in the character of Platoon or the Deer Hunter is to miss the point. Like everything else that Kubrick did, this is a highly stylized vision. Joker (Matthew Modine) swaggers like Clockwork Orange's "Alex" (Malcolm Macdowell), a young know-it-all who's ended up "in the s---" through the obscure workings of history. Like Alex, he's got his own aesthetic angle on violence. . .and the world's got a thing or two to teach him.
Kubrick isn't making a movie "about war". He's making a movie about men "watching a war"-- check the extraordinary sequence mid-way through where a film crew improvises a human chain to produce a smooth pan shot for newsreel footage.
Some reviewers don't care for the Parris island/Vietnam segue. . .I think its brilliant. Parris Island is confined, claustrophobic, weirdly homerotic, and savage in its own remarkably nasty way. Vietnam is savage in a very different, but also remarkably nasty way -- note in particular how Kubrick switches from the all male world of training, to place women directly at the center of warfare in 'Nam. With a filmmaker this calculating, you can be sure that there's a reason the sniper's a girl. . .
Finally, see this movie for the best City/"Into the Bush" transition since Peter O'Tooole went from Officer's Club to the Desert in Lawrence of Arabia. Kubrick's opening "slow zoom" in Saigon is simply genius; the kind of thing you look at again and again and say to yourself "why can't anyone else take shots that look like that"