Wednesday, August 5, 2009

FULL METAL JACKET (Stanley Kubrick, 1987, USA)

“I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and it has been painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black”


The malleable cores of young men are cloaked in metal, their soft hearts made hard to kill, their whole world painted black. Auteur Stanley Kubrick is not concerned with an authentic representation of the Vietnam War; he purposely disassembles genre conventions and recreates a violent parable that reflects the interior conflict of soldiers with use of hyperrealism and grotesque pathos. This dissosiative identity of the film’s structure is apparent from the opening sequence where we see military recruits being shorn like sheep: instead of Jimmy Hendrix we get Johnny Wright! The use of popular music is a viscous counterpoint to the action, indirectly creating a vertiginous sense of confusion and puzzlement, a purposeful aural dichotomy that is subliminally meant to heighten anxiety and deconstruct expectations. Kubrick also splits the film in two, from Paris Island to the crowded streets of Vietnam with an effective fade to black. While at Paris island, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman begins his campaign of dehumanization and rehabilitation, the recruits castrated by their absurd patriarch who holds complete dominion over them. These boys are relegated to caricatures, their actual names forgotten (or never revealed), and by christening them Hartman molds them into weapons of flesh and bone. Their juvenile fantasies are replaced by strict discipline barked from a rabid dog, and while losing their individuality they are either subsumed into the larger organism…or self-destruct. JUMP CUT: Vietnam and our protagonist Joker and his buddy Rafterman, reporters for Stars & Stripes whose half-truths and fairy tales are fodder for grunts. The Film has no driving narrative force, there is no intrinsic goal or destination: it is only a scrapbook of deathly scenarios, a burlesque of Thanatos. Kubrick dresses the dioramas in fiery detail that are haunted by the ghosts of young men, the poetic dialogue carrying its own ghastly rhythm of the damned. The grunts hump their way through Hue city and Joker is finally baptized in blood and guts, his morality anaesthetized. Finally, grim silhouettes stalk the Perfume River inhaling its decaying aroma, chanting the theme song to The Mickey Mouse Club: they have regressed into adolescent fantasies and childhood memories in order to retain their sanity. But they have learned one important truth: The dead know only one thing…it is better to be alive. (A)


Samuel Wilson said...

The difference between Full Metal Jacket and other war films is the way it states its theme. The theme isn't really that different, but the way the helicopter gunner says, "Ain't war hell?" pretty much sums up the movie. You review did the film justice.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks! I believe Kubrick is interested in the internal conflict as opposed to the external reality of war; much like Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW but not as surreal...and of course FMJ differs because it has no formal structure.