I am slowly catching up with most Stanley Kubrick movies. He only directed 16 of them in his 48 years long career. I have seen each of these several times in the past: The Shining, A Clockwork Orange , 2001, and Dr Strangelove. I also bits pf Spartacus once on TV. Last year I watched Barry Lyndon. Now it was time to check out “Full Metal Jacket.” On one hand it is easy to categorize it as another Vietnam War movie, not unlike Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), The Killling Fields (1984), Rescue Dawn (2006), The Quiet American (1958 and 2002) or We Were Soldiers (2002), to name just a few); but quite unlike The Deer Hunter (1978).
The movie has three parts. The first 45 minutes covers the boot camp of the soldiers at an army base in the USA. This is focusing on the dehumanizing nature of the process that is designed to turn the incoming group of young men into Marines. Here are some of the drill sergeant’s words of “wisdom”:
You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit. …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…. [God] 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!
I can’t tell you how this section ends, but the treatment bears its results. The next 40 minutes shows what these Marines do in Vietnam, including fighting with the enemy, using local prostitutes, editing and censoring news, infighting with each others. As a segway to the next section we get a few mini-interviews of the soldiers as it could have been done by the military TV crew. This section starts of them standing around two of their dead buddies. The camera shows the circle of soldiers, one by one, each saying a few words from the dead men’s perspective. This was one of the most effective scenes I’ve seen. It shows that we/they are all dead already.
Finally the last 30 minutes shows the group’s fight with a single sniper after they got off from their track. They unsuccessfully face a Catch 22 (to use another military related metaphor.) The sniper wounded one of them on the open field. If they go after him to try to save his life they would be shot too. They know it, but one cannot resist doing so, thus he is wounded and eventually killed too. Eventually they find and wound the sniper too. Then comes the conflict whether to kill her, which would be the “humane” thing to do considering her wounds or abandon her, and let her live a bit longer to prolong her suffering. Depending on their temperament and to what extent the dehumanizing worked they give different answers to this challenge.
The movie ends with soldiers walking in the night in front of burning buildings, while the narrator gives a short monologue ending with “I am so happy that I am alive, in one piece and short. I’m in a world of shit… yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.”
I am, on the other hand, is afraid. War kills not just people, but kills the inside of the people who are doing the killings. Even the purpose of such a hopeful character as the Joker/narrator transforms this way “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and… kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.” I am afraid of this change and never want to experience anything remotely similar to it.
IMDB’s summary: A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow Marine recruits from their brutal basic training to the bloody street fighting set in 1968 Hue, Vietnam.