Full Metal Jacket

With Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick returned to the war movie to provide a coolly detached demonstration of the process of dehumanisation required to turn men into killing machines. The film is in two parts, the first detailing the training of a group of Marines at the hands of the sadistic, foul-mouthed Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey), and the second following one of the recruits, ‘Joker’ (Matthew Modine), who finds himself in combat at the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The film’s first and shorter half is the most successful, if only because the ritualised existence of camp training is something that Kubrick understands and fits into his deterministic view of how social and political forces work. The second half is more problematic, since Kubrick struggles when attempting to use the war in Vietnam as an example of his hypothesis about wars in general. In other respects, though, Full Metal Jacket is as intriguing and intricately designed as any Kubrick creation. There is the use of an abandoned East London gas works that was ravaged during World War Two as a stand-in for Vietnam, which is a great technical achievement but, one feels, isn’t meant to fool anyone. There are also the similarities between the execution of a movie and a military campaign, a point which Kubrick appreciates as much as any other director or commander in the field.
U.K., 1987.
116 mins.

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