This film based in the Vietnam War shows us the effects of the war, and all its dehumanizing circumstances that follow the young soldiers this movie highlights over the course of the war.
The first thing we see is one man after another getting their hair shaved off. As the camera points at each of the soldiers getting their hair buzzed off, their identities and personalities get stripped away as well. It is clear that one of the ideas the director, Stanley Kubrick, wanted to instill in the audience is the harsh and dehumanizing environment that can ultimately harm the mental states of the soldiers.
Gomer Pyle is introduced to us as a smiling, happy teddy bear of a man. But he just cannot seem to grasp the idea of how to do anything in the military. Joker, the narrator of the movie, quickly takes him under his wing, educating him about the Marines and what you need to do to survive in the war. After Gomer Pyle is repeatedly making things worse for every one else in his training squad, his entire group “gives him the proper motivation” and beats him while he’s sleeping.
After the attack Pyle becomes the best one in his squad and is showing signs of numbness and a huge change of attitude. After graduation, Pyle becomes insane and shoots the Lieutenant who had harassed him from the beginning, and then himself. Full Metal Jacket tells us that even though they weren’t even in the war zone yet, the structure of the American Military is brutal and has the power to do so much damage to anybody.
Character choices throughout this film were used in order to convey a sense of realism to the audience, and to people who might have been involved with the Vietnam war. Since men of all backgrounds were enlisted in the war, the actors needed to provide a spectrum of different educations, ethnicities, and personalities true to what the soldiers would have been like. During the Interview scene where a film crew asked the men their opinions, it was made clear of the vast array of men that served. It was necessary to include this scene because this film is all about exploring what extreme stressors and dehumanizing factors can do to your sense of self and morals. With this scene we get to see in deeper to what these men actually think of the war.
As the war becomes more and more intense, we see havoc and destruction in the form of darkness and ominous silence. As the risk of enemy forces becomes more apparent, long pauses and unsureness among the soldiers rise to uncomfortable levels. A wide shot of a city in ruins indicates to us that conflict is only just around the corner.
Death is portrayed in several different fashions to us. When Joker and Rafterman are sent to report on a mass grave of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers covered in a dusty white powdered Lime, we sense that the vietnamese are not being mourned here, but rather looked down on and disregarded. This film conveys this by a lens shot from the angle of the dead looking up to the American soldiers hovering their bodies. This technique makes the audience uncomfortable and gives us a point of view from the opposing forces, a bias that we haven’t yet seen.
As Gomer Pyle’s sanity is dwindling, the lighting in the bathroom becomes a ghoulish steel blue conveying a sense of “all hope is lost” and evil. The lieutenants death in this scene is shot in a slow motion gore melt-down, showing that there is some sort of mourning for this man even though he was a main component of Pyle’s demise. After Pyle finishes the lieutenant, and begins to bring the barrel to his mouth, the audience is overwhelmed with how fast his death is. Unlike moments before, Pyle’s death was swift and had no dramatic techniques to amplify his death besides the chunks of his brain spattered on the toilet. Even though Pyle became insane, we still secretly feel bad for him. Was it truly his fault that he offed his commanding officer and eventually himself? Or was it the harsh environment that the army forced him to live out?
Lastly, we see the death of hundreds of Vietnamese soldiers, woman and children. None of these characters have names. To us, they are faceless monsters. Oftentimes throughout the whole movie, we hear screaming and then a fall with more screaming on top of that. It is clear to the audience that the American troops did not respect these people. We see dead bodies being humiliated for sport and constant racial slurs that dehumanize the Vietnamese even more. It is obvious to us that if you didn’t take part in destroying the lives of the Vietnamese in multiple ways during the war, you were outcast. Whether or not you emphasize with the vietnamese forces and civilians, you had no choice but to dehumanize an entire culture to ultimately “win”, just as the American military demoralized you in order for the cycle of dehumanization to continue.
All pictures and gifs were taken directly from the film Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket. Perf. Matthew Modine, R Lee Ermey, Vincent D’OnoFrio. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1987.