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Full Metal Jacket
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EDITOR'S NOTE: According to a Warner Home Video technician involved in the production of The Stanley Kubrick Collection, Kubrick authorized all aspects of the Collection, from the use of Digital Component Video (or "D-1") masters originally
Stanley Kubrick's 1987, penultimate film seemed to a lot of people to be contrived and out of touch with the '80s vogue for such intensely realistic portrayals of the Vietnam War as Platoon and The Deer Hunter. Certainly, Kubrick gave audiences plenty of reason to wonder why he made the film at all: essentially a two-part drama that begins on a Parris Island boot camp for rookie Marines and abruptly switches to Vietnam (actually shot on sound stages and locations near London), Full Metal Jacket comes across as a series of self-contained chapters in a story whose logical and thematic development is oblique at best. Then again, much the same was said about Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a masterwork both enthralled with and satiric about the future's role in the unfinished business of human evolution. In a way, Full Metal Jacket is the wholly grim counterpart of 2001. While the latter is a truly 1960s film, both wide-eyed and wary, about the intertwining of progress and isolation (ending in our redemption, finally, by death), Full Metal Jacket is a cynical, Reagan-era view of the 1960s' hunger for experience and consciousness that fulfilled itself in violence. Lee Ermey made film history as the Marine drill instructor whose ritualized debasement of men in the name of tribal uniformity creates its darkest angel in a murderous half-wit (Vincent D'Onofrio). Matthew Modine gives a smart and savvy performance as Private Joker, the clowning, military journalist who yearns to get away from the propaganda machine and know firsthand the horrific revelation of the front line. In Full Metal Jacket, depravity and fulfillment go hand in hand, and it's no wonder Kubrick kept his steely distance from the material to make the point. --Tom KeoghSee all Editorial Reviews
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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.
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).
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