As Henry Kissinger stated, “Vietnam is still with us. It has created doubts about American judgment, about American credibility, about American power – not only at home but throughout the world. It has poisoned our domestic debate. So we paid an exorbitant price for the decisions that were made in good faith and for good purpose.” Americans and Vietnamese still see and feel the devastating effects of the Vietnam War several decades later. There are numerous films that attempt to reveal the “truth” behind the Vietnam War, and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” uses comical and historical aspects as an attempt to portray a very real, very violent film.
Released in 1987, “Full Metal Jacket,” starring Mathew Modine (Joker), Vincent D’Onofrio (Gomer Pyle), Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother) and Lee Ermey (Drill Sergeant Hartman) shows the difficult transitions the Marines face as they go from the start of boot camp to tours in Vietnam. It provides the audience with vivid, sometimes nauseating, images of the Vietnam War and glimpses of the soldiers’ trials during the war.
“Full Metal Jacket” depicts the Vietnam War in two different aspects of the war in one amazing plot. The first part of the movie focuses on the harsh training of the military during the late 1960’s. The audience becomes aware of the distinct personalities of each soldier. The second half of the movie depicts the actual war with devastating images of dead bodies.
Using intense physical training, nicknaming, target practice and marching, Sergeant Hartman toughens the men up to prepare them for war. After all, the squad recites their creed every night before going to bed, convincing themselves that they must kill their enemy before he kills them.
The most notable character is Gomer Pyle, an overweight recruit who is on Hartman’s bad side from the beginning. Much of the movie focuses on his struggle to survive under the difficult Sergeant. From boot camp, the introduction to weeks of exhausting activities in preparation of what lies ahead in the armed services, to graduation, Pyle is punished daily for his performance as a soldier. He becomes insane and the night after graduation he kills Sergeant Hartman. It is shocking that none of the men, including his drill instructor, noticed Pyle’s shutdown as he began acting “different” and doing things he would not have normally engaged in.
The remaining marines leave their posts following the murder of Sergeant Hartman and Pyle’s collapse. Private Joker, who becomes a combat correspondent for “Stars and Stripes,” the military newspaper in Vietnam, is sent north to report on the troops during the Vietnamese Tet offensive.
Kubrick’s intention to show the irony between the desire for combat and the reality of war remains clear towards the end of the movie. Private Cowboy, Joker’s friend, is shot and killed by a female Vietnamese sniper and Joker is in the midst of a moral dilemma once again.
Facing feelings of fear, sympathy, anger and passionate patriotism, Private Animal Mother encourages him to leave the sniper to slowly die, but Joker sticks to his beliefs and shoots her.
Seeing the movie through Joker’s eyes, the audience becomes aware of the Vietnam War and how emotionally scarred these soldiers were as a result of their traumatic experiences. As the grandchild of two World War II veterans, I am interested in learning about the difficulties my grandfathers faced while defending their country.
I am saddened, though, at the notion that war is a fact of life and no matter how amusing “Full Metal Jacket” may be, the deaths of millions of young men and women is still devastating and disturbing.