Full Metal Jacket: Breaking Down Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpiece
We all know that Stanley Kubrick is a legend among legends in the film industry, but he did tend to take his time releasing new movies. Kubrick made three films in the last couple of decades of his career. And between the period of The Shining (1980) and the movie Eyes Wide Shut (1999), released after his death, there was Full Metal Jacket (1987), the epic depiction of the Vietnam War by Stanley Kubrick.
Around the time when The Shining was already in theaters, Kubrick had already decided to make a film which could portray in the real understanding of what it’s like to be in war. Around seven years later after The Shining, he presented the world with Full Metal Jacket.
An incredibly insightful and influential for the future war movies to come, Full Metal Jacket featured an early usage of shutter-speed effect which we saw getting popularized with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.
Read Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay for Full Metal Jacket. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).
Unlike any of the films that Kubrick had come up till now, Full Metal Jacket happens to be, by far, one of the best war movies ever made. Full Metal Jacket stars Matthew Modine (check out his amazing behind the scenes book Full Metal Jacket Diary), Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood, Vincent D’Onforio, R.Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, and Ed O’Ross.
Going back to as far as 1976, when Kubrick started to work on a Holocaust film and wanted to get the Nobel prize-winning Issac Bashevis Singer of Enemies: A Love Story to write the screenplay for him.
Sometime after The Shining was released, Kubrick got in touch with Michael Herr who was a war correspondent for Esquire magazine back in Vietnam, and author of the widely acclaimed memoir, Dispatches (1977). Kubrick wanted to discuss the film regarding the Holocaust but ended up discarding the idea for a movie about Vietnam War.
Kubrick met with Herr in England and told him that he still had to adapt a story for his war film. Then he came across The Short-Timers (1979) a novel by Gustav Hasford. Herr found it to be a masterpiece while Kubrick was so drawn to the dialogue, finding it entirely unique, Stanley read the book twice. According to Kubrick, he found the stark quality of the dialogue almost poetic.
Kubrick started his research on the film in 1983, watching past documentaries and footage, studying hundreds of photographs, reading Vietnamese newspapers on microfilm from the era. Earlier Herr was not inclined in revisiting the Vietnam experiences, but Kubrick convinced him after three years.
Then in 1985, Hasford was asked by Kubrick to work on the screenplay with Herr and himself, and they frequently talked over the phone. Both Kubrick and Herr got together every day at the director’s place to break down scenes. Herr then wrote the first draft. Kubrick changed the title to Full Metal Jacket (while thumbing through a guns catalog) as he did not want the audience to misinterpret it as people who did half day’s work.
After completion of the first draft, Both Herr and Hasford sent their submissions to Kubrick who read and edited them and this process was repeated by the team. Kubrick wanted to meet Hasford in person Herr advised against it describing the author as scary. Upon Kubrick’s insistence, they met for dinner at Kubrick’s place which well badly, and Hasford was shut out of production.
Full Metal Jacket was filmed in Cambridgeshire, England. Kubrick acquired four M41 tanks from a Belgian colonel who happened to be his fan. A lot of effort and creativity was put to depict the war in the most efficient manner. Kubrick described the filming as difficult.
Full Metal Jacket is told in two acts. The film starts with the dehumanization which takes place during the basics training of the corps. Focusing on a cluster of aspiring U.S. Marines and how they are pushed through the basics by their merciless drill sergeant, Hartman and sent off to Vietnam.
Kubrick had hired R.Lee Ermey as a military technical advisor on the film. Ermey had the background of being a Marine drill instructor which made him a sound prospect for the role and Kubrick hired him for the iconic role of Hartman.
The first act involves showing each of the recruits and their relentless sergeant who happens to have no problem with public humiliation and degradation of each and giving them names based on their demeanors or actions thus the character like the Cowboy, the Joker, etc.
It closely depicts how the American boys are overworked and thrashed by the mechanism which is the Marine Corps. Unless they are nothing but hardened, combat-ready, bald headed men of mass destruction in uniforms or in the case of one private, a nut case.
Full Metal Jacket also portrays the backing force of the platoon when they attempt to have each other’s back. Gomer Pyle (a character who was nicknamed after incurring the wrath of Hartman).
Gomer Pyle always messed up, and the platoon continually made fun of him. Hartman thought of collective punishment for his faults, and whenever he made a mistake, the rest of the platoon was punished but not Pyle. There are disturbingly saddening scenes where the other give him a blanket party restraining him in bed Pyle became a Model Marine after the incident impressing Hartman.
Gradually Pyle gets his act together when he taught how to use a rifle. Sometimes complimented but still ridiculed for different things, hints of mental breakdown begin to emerge which are noticed by the Joker when he catches Pyle talking to his M14 rifle. Pyle takes too much pride in his weapon which starts to worry everybody. Pyle got pushed to his limits, and he felt that not only he had to kill the sergeant but himself too.
Full Metal Jacket shows what war is like and what is done to men to become soldiers. This film offered an uncensored look into soldier life during the Vietnam War. Some of the scenes were so horrible especially during the first half of the soldiers in basic training where they were ridiculed, worked to death and broken down completely to rise again as the perfect combat fighter.
If contemplated over in depth, Full Metal Jacket handles what could occur when the system backfires and leading the audience into question whether this military training is even ethical. The way the program messed up Gomer Pyle to the verge of making him delusional and also both homicidal and suicidal. The scene of him talking to his rifle elaborates exactly how dehumanizing the experience of basic training could be for some people.
This film is full of memorable sequences and perfect filmmaking and garnered Kubrick an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Less talked about, Full Metal Jacket is certainly one of the most compelling movies of Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick has remarkably set the bar of how you should swallow the film. One laugh and one gasp at a time. It is an uncompromisingly brutal and darkly humorous film. Full Metal Jacket is illustrious in how close it portrays the psychological impact on Marines whose faces are shown up close.
The second act involves how the soldiers perform in reality towards war. Joker along with his boys go to war expecting to be heroes and imitating John Wayne movies but what they get is an abusive sergeant, hookers with T.B and people who do not want to be saved. They face So much trauma that they head back to infancy for safety singing the Mickey Mouse song.
The intentional and brutal dehumanization of the recruits at the hands of Hartman depicts the real face of training. Another wartime problem shown in Full Metal Jacket is of truthful reporting. Joker and few others are assigned to Basic Military Journalism and instructed only to write articles that suggested America is winning even if it meant to make up details. Full Metal Jacket raises a question of ethics or if they’re any in wartime. Joker still plays along even after realizing the wrongdoing that it would keep the troops in high spirits.
Stanley Kubrick has smartly balanced the rigorous rules and requirement of duty with the nasty violence embedded in the military life. Kubrick can draw the viewer in the film and makes them connect. When Joker was deployed to Vietnam, the audience wanted him to survive.
Full Metal Jacket raised philosophical questions throughout which varied between ethics on morality or whether a soldier is entitled to free will. ANY at all?
Joker is asked by a superior at one point about his peace symbol with the words Born to Kill on his helmet and he replied with it being a Jungian thing meaning duality of man. Here the ability of a soldier to be two men Joker depicts a killer and thinker and that Marines do not want thinkers.
Kubrick has drawn the audience into showing the real nature of war and the character of men who are required to fight and die, but they are humans. All of them. Just like us.
If you are a filmmaker watching Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is mandatory:
- FEAR & DESIRE (1953)
- KILLER’S KISS (1955)
- THE KILLING (1956)
- PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
- SPARTACUS (1960)
- LOLITA (1962)
- DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
- 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
- A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
- BARRY LYNDON (1975)
- THE SHINING (1980)
- FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
- EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)
Stanley Kubrick – RARE Behind the Scenes on ‘Full Metal Jacket’
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