Full Metal Jacket (1987)

This past weekend Full Metal Jacket was on television and I had some time to sit down and watch it. From what I’ve heard it is one of the better Vietnam War movies, and it was on an AFI list and I am trying to make my way through all those movies.  It is also a Stanley Kubrick movie and he made many great films in the past. Be prepared for some Spoilers below

Full Metal Jacket could really be considered two separate films, one at boot camp and the other in Vietnam. I really liked the first part as  R. Lee Emery was brilliant as the Drill Instructor, and I read somewhere that he ad-libed most of his lines. This had been the extent of what I’ve seen of the movie R. Lee Emery shouting at people. Jame “Joker” Davis, our narrator, is one of the recruits and we watch him go through boot camp with a group of mostly other qualified individual with the exception of Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence who is overweight and can’t do anything right. It is a lighter fare as you can get in a movie about war until the end of boot camp. I was shocked as this section ended, with Leonard going crazy.

The movie then jump about a year and Joker is in Vietnam and working for Stars and Stripes the newspaper for the military, despite being in Vietnam for a while Joker hasn’t see much combat. The Tet Offensive begins soon after we join them in Vietnam. There is an interesting dichotomy here in the movie it is a War movie but also kind of an anti-war movie as symbolized in the Jungian disposition of Joker who wears a peace symbol and have Born to Kill scrawled upon his helmet. This second half was more difficult to watch as we hear from many of the characters they weren’t sure what they were doing in Vietnam or if it was for any good. There were a lot more people dying and things like that as well. The biggest question that remains is will we have a similar depth of films about the current wars in Iraq/Afghanistan.

It was a decent film but I wouldn’t say it was the best movie about Vietnam although many of the films have colored our own understanding of what happened in Vietnam. This like the other Vietnam movies is based on a novel, this time The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford about his experience in Vietnam. If you are a history buff then you are bound to like the movie as it offers a first hand account of life in Vietnam and leading up to it as I don’t remember much being typically said about basic training in most other movies about war.


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