When a great director decides to take on a notorious historical event, the film is always held against the rest of their work. For Stanley Kubrick, that may be a bit unfair in terms of Full Metal Jacket. However, as I will point out later, I do see some parallels between this film and Dr. Strangelove.
Full Metal Jacket is broken into two main parts. In the first part Joker (Matthew Modine) and Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio), among others, must survive the grueling drill sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). Hartman consistently berates the cadets and seems to favor punishing Pyle for his weight and slow mentality. Joker is tasked with helping him survive and graduate, which culminates in one of two big climaxes.
The second half of the film takes place after Joker is sent to Vietnam. He serves as a reporter who initially sees very little field action. After the Tet Offensive, he is sent into the field to “get into the shit” and ultimately finds his unit in a showdown with a North Vietnamese sniper. This becomes the films second big climax.
The nature of Full Metal jacket is largely humorous. Each character is given a nickname that fits their unique and quirky personalities. The humor and pace of the film make it easily watchable and highly entertaining, though the antics of Hartman make the first half of Full Metal Jacket more engrained in the public consciousness.
In defense of the second half of the film, I would like to present a theory I formulated. When Joker’s unit is pinned down and facing the sniper, Eightball (Dorian Harewood) goes out into the field to try and locate the sniper’s position. He is shot several times with a pause between each hit, slowly wearing down the nerve of the other soldiers. Soon Doc Jay (Jon Stafford) has had enough and against orders runs out to help him. He is shot in a similar manner, further wearing down the troops. Finally Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), the stereotypical hotheaded machine gunner, runs out and ultimately finds the sniper’s location. Before the troops can enter the building, their leader Cowboy is shot which raises the death count to 3.
I give all this information to illustrate my theory. I see this as, maybe unintentionally, an allegory for America’s involvement in Vietnam. Despite better judgement, the troop’s nerves wear to the point that they can’t help but making an irrational decision. This is much like the way the war, public opinion, and professional advisement wore on President Johnson. He continually made private remarks about feeling trapped in a no win situation.
In the end, Joker shoots the sniper in the head….officially earning his thousand yard stare and killer instinct. This clearly parallels how the war negatively effected the psyche of both the American public and the troops serving.
END OF SPOILERS
The biggest similarity I see between Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove is in their tone. Superficially both may appear as relatively serious dramatic films with maybe a dash of humor here or there. However, on closer analysis both films are full of wit, satire, and sarcasm. I think one of the main reasons that Full Metal Jacket appeals to both pro and anti-war audiences is because of this duality.
I believe this was my third or maybe fourth time viewing the film, although it had been quite a while since the last time I watched it. Although I greatly admire the work of Stanley Kubrick, he has never been one of my go to directors. When you watch one of his films, it’s almost automatic that you will get excellent cinematography and a well organized plot. This is true of Full Metal Jacket. I enjoyed re-watching it and am sure I will watch it again, however I can’t say it will be in the near future. Overall Full Metal Jacket is an excellent movie, just not one on my list of infinitely watchable films.