RogerBW's Blog

Full Metal Jacket (1987) 15 January 2022

1987 war, dir. Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey: IMDb / allmovie. Boot camp is hell, then it gets worse.

But it's boot camp, the first 45-odd minutes of this 116-minute film, that's the memorable part, at least for me. It's the most effective filmic depiction I've seen of the way individuality must be erased in order to produce military brotherhood (indeed, in order to produce people who can both kill and stop killing without breaking); it doesn't matter how you give in to the system, it just matters that you do, and once you've made that first compromise they've got you. (Nobody down at this level could articulate this as the brainwashing that it obviously is, of course.) And of course this was the start of major parts for R. Lee Ermey, all too often doing some imitation of his role here.

And then things go… slack, as all these people who've been through boot camp suddenly start to act like normal on-screen soldiers; and one feels they shouldn't be able to do that any more, at least not while they're still inside the system. Then it's off to Beckton Gasworks for the fighting, and while city fights aren't part of the Vietnam cliché, they're staged effectively; perhaps it's unreasonable of me to complain that it's too clear what's happening where, after I complained about the opposite in Platoon, but I do think there may be a happy medium, to make it clear that this is more scary and confusing than a paintball session but at the same time let the untrained viewer remain aware of what's going on.

A note on Adam Baldwin; I hadn't seen this when I watched Firefly, but now I can't help thinking that his role there now seems awfully like his role here fifteen years earlier.

If like me you've seen a lot of photographs of Bassingbourn Barracks, several outdoor scenes will look awfully familiar. Stranger to me, though justified, is the use of Westland Wessex helicopters; they're not bad visual substitutes for H-34 Choctaws, and of course the USMC was using Choctaws rather than the Hueys that are the Vietnam-cliché helicopter, but it's still a moment of disconnection for my inner aviation buff.

With a different second and third act this could have been superb. As it is, after a stunning start, most of it ends up feeling like a let-down.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 12:44pm on 15 January 2022

    I remember seeing this not long after I'd read Nam by Mark Baker (collection of conversations with Vietnam vets) and similar books. So I was startled to see some of the real life incidents in Nam appear on screen.

    That might explain why the second section of the movie is a bit disjointed: they are trying to tell other people's stories from a range of times and places across the war using these characters who are in one time and one place.

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