Full Metal Jacket
***** – a masterpiece
As I watch more war films that actually take the time to analyze war, I become increasingly aware that standard war cinema just doesn’t cut it. I forgave Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan because of the outstanding way in which the film is told – but it can never be in the leagues of what has come from Malick, Coppola, Renior and Kubrick. The nature of average war cinema is one that trivializes the human consequences of war for a focus on pure excitement, strategy and technicality.
Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is not one of those films. The film views the sinister nature of the hyper-masculinity that infests man in war. Jacket is broken into two parts – the beginning a training camp sequences which focuses on forced sexuality and the creation of a “well-oiled machine” – which results in mental corruption and stark violence. The second section is set in Vietnam itself (in actuality sets built in England – much like Eyes Wide Shut‘s “New York”), and despite the contrast of location, what is covered in the first segment remains parallel in the second. The dual narrative structure provocatively compliments the film’s main theme of the duality of the masculine and feminine nature of man, and how war allows the masculine to override and corrupt. Each segment has somewhat-parallel beginning and end – with the first connected so directly that it serves as truly the beginning of the second. The two share an incredibly interesting symbiotic relationship with one another – as they remain separate, yet together. It’s unfortunate that many recognize this as the film’s flaw, when Kubrick’s brilliant structuring of the film is the highlight.
The first segment (easily the most popular of the two – undoubtedly because of the foul-mouthed drill sargent) essentially used as an explanation of sorts for the mentality and behavior displayed on the battlefield. The trigger-happy insanity shown in the second segment is proven by the first to have come from somewhere – it isn’t an intrinsic element of manhood. Joker, who gives us the very last scene of violence in the second segment – parallel to Pyle’s violence in the first – is shown to be quite caring when training Pyle, and opposite to his loud-mouth instructor. Eventually the instructors propganda kicks in, even for the more “effemenate” Private Gomer Pyle, and ends in tragedy in both halves. Few elements remain untied – including the first segment’s forced sexuality, which results in a few pathetic scenes in the second with Vietnamese prostitutes.
Stylistically, Full Metal Jacket is unfortunately one of Kubrick’s most dated. From a director who seemingly places just as much emphasis on how his film’s look, as he does in what they mean – the look of Jacket is surprisingly boring. Admittedly, there are stylistic elements that are of interest – from long tracking shots, to experimenting here and there with contrasting shades (done to greater extent in Eyes Wide Shut). The war-torn sets themselves could easily have been at least partial visual inspiration for later (and lessor) films – Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Scott’s Black Hawk Down come first to mind. However, when compared to the timeless beauty of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut and others in his lineup – Jacket‘s visuals are overall uninspired. It’s unfortunate that the much of the film’s look never escapes the decade in which it was made – especially considering that the special-effects-heavy 2001 is still as visually excited in the present as I’m sure it was upon its release. Even the synth scoring of A Clockwork Orange is so otherworldly that it remains unattached to a particular decade.
If I have one other minor gripe, it’s that the film doesn’t end a minute-or-so earlier. The ending as is isn’t bad, it’s just pointless – and ending in the previous scene would’ve heightened the dramatic effect. It’s interesting to me that Roger Ebert states in his review, “You can only watch so much footage of a man crouched behind a barrier, pinned down by sniper fire, before the situation turns into a cinematic cliche. We’ve been here before, in other war movies, and we keep waiting for Kubrick to spring a surprise, but he never does.” I wonder if his boredom caused him to forget to notice the gender of the sniper (the “surprise” he was waiting for) – whose eventual destruction serves as a strong visual symbol for the hyper-machismo taking its final grasp, in the bloody, unfortunate end.