There were always a lot of different wars going on and even more war stories written down. These stories are usually very complicated and involve many characters, feelings and struggles. They show the war from different sides, describing the moments of intense battle as much as moments of soldiers’ soul torments. War stories mostly include different combats, a dramatic plot, sometimes a love line, and almost always an emotional finale. Some of these stories are quite positive and have happy endings; others try to show the real war. The director Stanley Kubrick also made a war story and named it “Full Metal Jacket”. This story turned out to be very unconventional and unusual, because it follows the mental development of the soldiers and their emotions rather than concentrating on the war itself.
The film “Full Metal Jacket” follows a Marine reporter nicknamed Joker through his initiation into Marine boot camp and his involvement in the Vietnam War which lasts from December 1956 up to 30 April 1975. Although the reasons for Vietnam War start appearing much earlier.
The story of the movie begins the United States Marine Corps Training Camp. A group of young recruits are having their heads shaved and being prepared for military basic training by their new senior drill instructor, brutal Gunnery Sergeant called Hartman, whose work is to “weed out all non-hackers”. During the training the sergeant often degrades each recruit; he uses many different psychological attacks such as repeated chants in training or insulting their masculinity (calling them sweethearts or ladies). He also gives certain men a ridiculous nickname based on their actions or characters: the pragmatic man who talks behind his back got a name Joker, a man from Texas became a Cowboy.
The viewer can observe a slow dehumanization of recruits that occurs during the training. American boys are humiliated and worked to death. Finally, they become totally broken and reconstructed as the perfect marines; they are taught that they are nothing more than bald-headed weapons of mass destruction in uniforms. Some of them could not handle this and slowly go insane, what is perfectly shown in the example of Private Pyle.
The second part of the movie takes place already on the war. Each recruit got a Military Occupational Specialty. Joker, which is the main character, now becomes a military journalist.
“Full Metal Jacket”ends with Joker marching with other marines and singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song and then Joker narrates, “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.”
He is called the Joker, and “Full Metal Jacket” is the story of his aging, the story of his transformation from an innocent child to the killing machine, a real soldier. During this war, he finds nothing but madness and cruelness in everything around him, starting with his drill instructor, Sergeant Hartman, to the Vietnamese “enemies” and his fellows, so the film does not really take anybody’s side. It does not tell you who the antagonists and who the protagonists are.
More than that, this movie has a lot of dualities: the helmet with the peace symbol on one side and “Born to Kill” written on the other, even Joker himself explained it as a duality of a man. The tragic deaths at the end of each part of the movie. Joker’s own desires to “get into shit” and to avoid it as much as possible. Him, being a Leonard’s tutor and the one who beats Pyle the hardest in the same time. The music use in different situations.
The music choice in the movie also says a lot about the meaningless of the war. For example taking a Mickey Mouse song, in the end, tells about the innocence of these soldiers many years ago, when there was no war going on. A period of time many years ago when they were all children, contrasted to fighting soldiers which they became now. Kubrick used music in a quite sarcastic, absurd and tragicomic way: The Mickey Mouse march, which is supposed to be entertaining and happy, becomes a dead march spreading above the land of destruction and death.
The title of the movie “Full Metal Jacket” is also given to it for a purpose. The Full Metal jacket bullets are bullets designed not to expand at all, thus they are considered ‘humane’ because they are less likely to kill. That fits the movie in a sense of how the marines had a distorted notion of what is humane and what is not.
The inscription “Born to Kill” on Joker’s helmet versus the Peace symbol perfectly summarizes this film.
There were no answers to any questions in the Vietnam War, the brink of honor and justice was lost. The gallant soldier is mocking while shoots a machine gun at innocent women and children, and nobody can even understand what are they fighting and die for, although they know that killing is their responsibility and mission.
“Full Metal Jacket” is a movie of contrast, where each minute contradicts the previous and the main character himself. All his doubts and compassionate in the beginning replaced with coolness and confidence in his decisions at the end. And finally, a Hartman’s mission is completed. An army of demoralized people, who is only able to kill, will return back home because it is too difficult to stay human in the war. The end of this transformation in the huge heartless machine is seen when Private Joker kills a sniper and destroy a pacifist in himself, symbolizing the final decay of the soul and the conversion into a monster.
In any war, if you kill a person in front of you, you kill a person inside yourself. And Kubrick perfectly showed how meaningless is that war in his movie called “Full Metal Jacket”.