Full Metal Jacket

Running time: 116 minutes
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Released in 1987, it is considered by many to be the seminal Vietnam War movie. Following the career of Private (later Sergeant) J.T. "Joker" Davis (Matthew Modine) from boot camp to the Tet Offensive and the battle of Hue, this movie is noteworthy for being one of the most realistic depictions of both boot camp (although it is rumoured that Kubrick asked R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Senior DI) to tone his language and behaviour down a bit, as he had indeed served as a Marine Drill Instructor in real life) and the Tet Offensive. As well, it is a stirring depiction of the dehumanizing aspect of both military training and combat.

For the first 45 minutes, the movie focuses on Private Joker's experiences in boot camp and the events surrounding him. The bulk of these events center on Private Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), an overweight draftee who seems to suffer from slight mental retardation. As a result of the DI's continued failed attempts to turn "Private Pyle" into a Marine, and his last-ditch attempt at disciplining him (punishing the platoon for Private Pyle's mistakes), Private Pyle suffered a mental breakdown following a blanket party. Following his breakdown, Private Pyle became a model soldier, managing to graduate and enter the Marine Corps as a rifleman. However, on the night of the platoon's graduation, Private Pyle lost all touch with reality and underwent a psychotic episode that ended in his death.

At this point, the movie shifts to Saigon, where Sergeant Joker is serving as a field reporter for Stars and Stripes along with Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) at Da Nang. Following the launching of the Tet Offensive, Joker and Rafterman are sent into the field ("the shit") to cover the Marines' counterattack againt Hue. It is here that Private Joker is reunited with Cowboy (Arliss Howard), a friend from boot camp. Together, they enter the city of Hue, where they encounter the "real war." While on patrol, they are pinned down by a sniper who rapidly reduces the number of people in Cowboy's platoon. With the actions of Joker, the sniper is killed just before the movie ends.

Sources: Full Metal Jacket DVD, www.imdb.com

Symbolism has always been a strong point of Stanley Kubrick in all of his movies. Among the most effective uses of symbolism is deployed in his 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket, a film that follows the story of a group of boys from Boot Camp to Vietnam.

The symbolism is highly effective in this film to portray the role of these soldiers as young boys. In the actual Vietnam conflict, the average age of the US serviceman serving overseas was 19-20. These kids were barely out of highschool before they were drafted into the service and shipped overseas. Kubrick effectively displays this nature of the soldiers by continual references to cartoons, more specifically, Mickey Mouse.

In several Boot Camp scenes, the Drill Instructor yells many lines such as,

"What kind of Mickey Mouse Bullshit is this?"

When the film shifts over to Vietnam, there is a particular scene where Joker is in a conference room with other Military journalists discussing the upcoming issue. This room is decorated with several Disney posters as well as several stuffed animals of Mickey Mouse and other toys. There is also a banner featuring Snoopy that states:

"First to go, last to know. We will defend to the death our right to be misinformed."

Finally, the epitome of the death of childishness is seen in the final scene of the movie. The platoon is marching through a burning countryside, with Joker's voiceover saying that he really is in a 'world of shit'. The entire platoon is singing the Mickey Mouse Club Anthem:

"Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E"

I don't think any other Vietnam film has had such an effect at Full Metal Jacket in portraying the full horrors of war.

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