The Marines express their views of the war.

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Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. The film is named after the full metal jacketed bullets used in military ammunition. more...

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The film has been widely praised for accurately evoking the mood of the Vietnam War from the Marine's point of view. Recurring themes are the contradictions of war, a constant feeling of being out of one's depth, and the idea of combat in Vietnam being part of a different world, with its own rules and customs. The miasma of confusion and angst of the new world begins in boot camp, and spirals down into bloodshed before even landing in Vietnam.

In the aftermath of this film a series of policy changes came about in what was considered acceptable behavior by a Drill Instructor in the United States Marine Corps. All references to a recruit's family are absolutely forbidden, as is striking a recruit.

The movie is often said to have been shot on the Isle of Dogs, in east London, but in fact the ravaged city scenes were shot in a disused gas works in Beckton, further east. The open country is Cliffe marshes, also on the Thames, with palm trees imported from Spain. While this was reasonable for the urban nature of the Tet offensive, it was also influenced by Kubrick's aversion to air travel.


The protagonist of the film is Marine recruit J.T. 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine), who is part of a group beginning basic training as a Marine on Parris Island, SC. The brutal command of Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by former Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor) shows the harsh indoctrination of the armed forces during the Vietnam War era. The training is depicted as designed to eliminate virtually all trace of the recruits' individual personalities and transform them into killers (to "keep Heaven packed with fresh souls"). This first section of the film focuses largely on how the brutal treatment of overweight misfit Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) results in his losing his sanity, after which, despite Joker's attempts to intervene, he murders the Drill Instructor, and then kills himself.

The second part then takes place in Vietnam, focusing on 'Joker', who is now a Sergeant, and a Stars and Stripes war correspondent, as he covers the Tet Offensive. The 'Joker' soon becomes familiar with both the horror and the absurdity of the war. His helmet decoration – the slogan "Born to Kill" – and the Peace symbol pin on his uniform exemplify his moral ambiguity. In one scene Joker is confronted by a Marine Corps Colonel (Bruce Boa), demanding to know why he has a peace symbol on his uniform and "Born To Kill" on his helmet. Joker mentions the duality of man theory postulated by Carl Jung; the Colonel questions Joker's patriotism and demands that he shape up, "or I will take a giant shit on you."


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