This Blind Spot entry will be done as a He Says, She Says post, because Full Metal Jacket was on the list of twelve films that Jonathan selected from his favorites that he wanted me to watch, which was the original genesis for this series. We never got around to it the year we made those lists for each other, but I’m glad we did now. These Blind Spots lists really are good for getting around to stuff we want to watch. :)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford
Cast: Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey
Info: 1987 USA/UK, Warner Bros.
Chooser: Both (Jon’s choice for me to watch, my choice to watch this week)
Date and Method Watched: 2 February 2014, Blu-ray
Going into this film, I’d heard that it breaks cleanly into two parts, and that most people vastly prefer the first part. Coming out of it, the first statement is self-evident, but I ended up liking both parts quite a lot. The first part is set at Marine boot camp, with a hard-nosed drill sergeant putting a group of raw recruits through the wringer. The second part is set in Vietnam, following Joker, one of the more accomplished recruits, now a correspondent for a military newspaper.
I can see why people like the first half more – it’s tightly focused and basically flawless. As a microcosm of the boot camp world and how it either makes or breaks you, it’s self-contained, intense, and brilliant. On its own, it would work just as well as an extended short film. Vincent D’Onofrio (who I didn’t even recognize) goes from adorable to terrifying, and I believed every second of it.
The second half is much more sprawling, but that’s what war is. Boot camp is controlled, tight, and regimented. It’s supposed to prepare you for war, but war, especially a war like Vietnam, is unpredictable. There’s no way to prepare for the situations the men find themselves in once they get there, and that’s the point. The first half makes you think the drill sergeant is putting them through hell. But he’s not. War is hell.
There are lots of other things I could say about the film – most of the music seems incongruous and yet is utterly fitting, which I love. There are a ton of great shots, from the tracking shot leading the sergeant around the barracks in the beginning to the silhouettes against a blood-red sky in Vietnam. I didn’t expect to like this movie all that much, let alone enjoy the experience of watching it, but I did. A lot. I should’ve known to trust Kubrick.
My Souvenir: There are so many I could take from this. The sergeant’s opening monologue, Pyle’s success (albeit short-lived) with the Joker’s encouragement, the look in Pyle’s eyes in the bathroom, the intensity of the whole sniper showdown, etc. But I think I’ll take a thematic moment. After the sniper goes down, Joker’s face is half lit, half in shadow – his face showing that duality that he previously indicated somewhat facetiously with the “Born to Kill” slogan and the peace sign button. The whole movie kind of comes together at that moment, purely through visuals and symbolic means. That’s what filmmaking is all about.
I saw Full Metal Jacket fairly early on, either at the end of high school or the beginning of college. A bunch of us knew this guy who would quote R. Lee Ermey’s lines repeatedly and I wanted to see what kind of film would match such aggressive dialog and what would – in a roundabout way – make said guy want to join the Marines.
I dug the film well enough on first viewing but it took awhile for it to become the favorite that it is now. At the time I didn’t really understand the connection between the two parts and couldn’t figure out why Kubrick didn’t just jettison the meandering last half for the pristine filmmaking that was the first. With time and repeat viewing I came to realize that both parts were vital together and that Joker’s duality wouldn’t have played nearly as strong without everything that came before. This most recent viewing really hammered that home and in turn made this even more of a favorite.
And the music! I completely forgot how mismatched the soundtrack was from the content of the film. In lesser hands this sort of thing wouldn’t have had nearly the punch that it did. Case in point: the soldiers singing the theme song to the Mickey Mouse Club as they march triumphantly through wreckage and debris. Pretty much my new favorite scene from that film.