Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a realistic take on the brutalities of the Vietnam War. We are first introduced to the character of Davis (nicknamed “Joker”) as he is made to endure the rigors of basic training in the marine corps. The film later shifts its focus to the actual war in Vietnam, where the Joker is hired to cover and participate in the bloody battle of Hué.
Full Metal Jacket is a metaphor for the horrors of war told through two connected storylines. The first storyline is an extensive look into the brutal, methodic and dehumanizing training that recruits have to undergo in order to effectively become “killing machines”. It is interesting to note that the first 15-20 mins of the movie features no protagonist i.e. we do not know who to cheer for or who to “follow around” for the rest of the movie. This gives an ultra-realistic and non theatrical feel to the movie. It is almost as if we are just peeking into a real life US marine training camp. This storyline also features exceptional performances from Vincent D’Onofrio, a young out of shape recruit, who in real life gained 70 pounds to fit this role and R. Lee Emry, a foul mouthed general who pushes his trainees to their absolute limits. I found it fascinating that Emry had been a real life drill sergeant during the Vietnam War, so his performance in FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) is just a reenactment of his former occupation.
The movie is also shot beautifully from beginning to end. Nearly every shot in the first storyline is symmetrical which emphasizes the discipline and order in the military. In contrast, the second storyline of the movie, the camera is handheld and captures everything in the first person view to give a sense of scale. The set design was also well chosen to represent scale; an abundance of rubble, broken down buildings and fires represent the chaotic nature of war. However the second storyline is slightly less interesting than the first; it takes a bit longer to marinate and expand upon some of the themes that were discussed earlier on. FMJ also follows a highly unconventional plot structure. There is no clear beginning, middle and end and the transition from scene to scene is abrupt. In addition, the film concludes in a manner that asks more questions than it answers. To some this may be annoying, but I found it quite entertaining because it is an achievement on its own to make such a unique and non-conventional plot structure entertaining to watch and unfold.
Overall, Full Metal Jacket is a good watch. It is a classic war movie whose themes and imagery can be broken down and analyzed in any high school English class. In addition, the film features a unique plot structure with exceptional performances from Vincent D’Onofrio and R. Lee Emry as well as some beautifully filmed shots. Even though the second storyline of the film is not quite as captivating as the first, this is certainly not a movie to overlook if you get the opportunity to watch it.
(thought I’d make my movie ratings more “visually appealing”)