Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is the United States Marine Corps drill instructor who leads recruits of Bravo Company through basic training in the first half of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.
The first time (or ten) you watch Full Metal Jacket, you may get the impression that Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) is just as psychotic as the recruit who he eventually drives insane, Private Pyle. He is not. He is cold, methodical, and hard, but he certainly is not insane. He is, actually, exactly what he says he is in the beginning of the film--hard, but fair.
Hartman begins by breaking down the recruits. (The breaking-down process begins before Hartman even enters, actually, with the shaving of the recruits' heads to promote homogeneity, but that's a minor point.) Nearly all the recruits who have speaking roles are given insulting nicknames by Hartman within the first five minutes of the film--Leonard Lawrence, the dimwit, becomes Private Pyle; J.T. Davis, the comedian, becomes Private Joker. They are largely known by these names for the rest of the film. We don't even find out some of the recruits' real names--they're known only as Private Snowball, Private Cowboy, Private Toejam. The assignment of nicknames serves to provide a barrier between civilian life and military life--this is your MARINE name, this is your MARINE life. Hartman doesn't do this out of spite or whim; it serves a clear purpose (and has been done for thousands of years).
Also of paramount importance is Hartman's physical abuse of the recruits in the opening scene. Private Pyle is instructed to choke himself on Hartman's hand after he is unable to stop smiling; Private Joker is viciously punched in the gut after spouting off a John Wayne impersonation when Hartman's back was to him. The violence is a wake-up call--play time is over. Hartman is not actually mad at Joker or Pyle, even though he certainly acts as though he is. He would have kept interrogating recruits until he had sufficient reason to hit one of them. It establishes a clear line of discipline; no recruit would dare mouth off after seeing what happened to Joker. Hartman is not a brutal man--he strikes a recruit only twice more in the picture. The first is to Private Pyle, after Private Pyle's gross negligence in determining left from right during parade march drills. The second is to Joker, after Joker states he doesn't believe in the Virgin Mary.
The religion bit is worth talking about seperately. The interaction with Joker about Virgin Mary and religion is the only time Hartman seems to slip into a truly bigoted role--berating Joker for not believing in the Virgin Mary--and yet it is not so. When Joker stands up to him, correctly stating that the only reason Hartman is attacking him is to see if he'll stand up for his religious beliefs, he is promoted to squad leader. A true bigot would have been unable to get past Joker's religious "ignorance" and punished him anyway. And so, even that physical abuse serves a purpose.
Hartman also doesn't constantly keep the brutish persona at full blast for the whole movie--there are scenes when he is simply an instructor. When he teaches the recruits about Lee Harvey Oswald being trained by the Marines is one example, the Christmas speech is another. Hartman clearly knows when to yell and when to help (well, "yell less" in the Marines vocabulary). That is the mark of a skilled instructor, not a psychopath.
I would say that Hartman's fatal flaw is his extreme perseverence, not his mental state. He flat-out refuses to give up on Private Pyle, for example, even though he should have probably been kicked out of boot camp in the first week. Because of this, Hartman is unable to see that Pyle really doesn't belong in the Marine Corps because of his mental instability.
Ironically, Hartman succeeds in his goals--the Marines want killers, as Private Joker says at one point, and Hartman certainly turns Pyle into one.
The joke's on him, though.
By popular demand, here are some of Hartman's great lines from the movie (not for the
weak of heart):
I'm going to rip your balls off, so you cannot contaminate the rest of the world! I will motivate you, Private Pyle, if it short-dicks every cannibal on the Congo!
God has a hard-on for Marines, because we kill everything we see. He plays His games, we play ours. To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls. God was here before the Marine Corps, so you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps!
There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here, you are all equally worthless.
Five-foot-nine, I didn't know they stacked shit that high.
Jesus Christ, Pyle, don't try too hard. If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there, wouldn't he?
Were you born worthless, or did you have to work at it?
I bet you're the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the god damned common courtesy to give him a reach around.
A rifle is only a tool. It's a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines. And then you will be in a world of shit. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission! Do you maggots understand?
Private Pyle, I'm gonna give you three seconds, exactly three fuckin' seconds, to wipe that stupid lookin' grin off your face or I will gouge out your eyeball and skull fuck you!
Bullshit! It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your mama's ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress.
What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn't Mommy and Daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?
Pyle, you climb obstacles like old people fuck!
Your days of finger-banging ol' Mary Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over!