Finds Laughter in War
Francois Truffaut, the famous French New Wave filmmaker,
once said that it is impossible to make an anti-war film, as any
film that attempts to be anti-war will inevitably aestheticize aspects
Stanley Kubrick’s 1988 film Full Metal Jacket definitely comes
as close as possible to achieving this impossibility, as it demonstrates
the horrible and dehumanizing aspects of conflict both in and outside
of actual violent battles. Interestingly, however, the film is able
to pull off this negative portrayal of war with a sense of humor.
Full Metal Jacket has an abundance of wit and irony, displayed in
such famous scenes as the Vietnamese hooker trying to score by demonstrating
her affection for the American GIs and Joker’s (played by
Matthew Modine of Vision Quest fame) ability to see the humor in
the grimmest of situations.
While the film’s negative portrayal of the Vietnam War may
be hackneyed subject matter, Kubrick brings an interesting analysis
to the conflict, focusing on its effects on a few eccentric individuals.
The film is divided into two main parts: the first tracks Joker
and his hapless and helpless Marine Corps mate — Leonard Pyle
— as they are led through boot camp by one of the most sadistic
and ridiculous drill sergeants imaginable.
These scenes provide a satirical critique of the Army, in that their
absurdity and exaggeration make them humorous, while making the
viewer aware of the existence of similar conditions in real life.
The ironic humor present here is matched with a seriousness about
the army’s (especially the Marine Corps) dehumanizing effects,
creating “killers” whose main purpose is to “supply
God with fresh souls for heaven,” as the drill sergeant memorably
However, there is an inevitable psychosis created in this, which
is expressed through Pyle’s inability to deal with the authoritarianism
of the Corps that singles him out as fat and incompetent and makes
him the object of the hatred of his fellow trainees.
After the surprising and disturbing climax to the
first section, the action follows Joker to his position as a Marine
journalist in Vietnam. His comfortable non-combat position soon
changes when the Tet Offensive occurs and he is reluctantly forced
to adopt the role of soldier as a result of his unappreciated facetious
What follows includes a horrific (yet beautifully shot and composed)
vision of war, culminating in the death of a sniper and the singing
of the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club as the soldiers return, having
ended the conflict, but definitely not victoriously in any traditional
sense of the word.
Kubrick illustrates the dehumanizing and absurd aspects of war,
yet demonstrates how an individual can possibly deal with even the
most awful of situations through the maintenance of perspective
Indeed, Joker is the ironic hero, in that he succeeds in maintaining
his individuality (including his peace button and his “Born
to Kill” helmet) despite the conformity and homogeneity imposed
upon soldiers, and the conflict that encourages a dehumanizing of
the enemy as an inhuman “other.”
As he states at the end of the film, “I am in a world of shit,
but I am alive, and I am not afraid.” If that isn’t
an existential message of hope in the face of nothingness, what
Full Metal Jacket is showing tonight (Friday) at
7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the West Lecture Hall