Full Metal Jacket (1987)
July 19, 2022 6:54 AM - Subscribe

Stanley Kubrick's take on the Vietnam War follows smart-aleck Private Davis (Matthew Modine), quickly christened "Joker" by his foul-mouthed drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), and pudgy Private Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), nicknamed "Gomer Pyle," as they endure the rigors of basic training. Though Pyle takes a frightening detour, Joker graduates to the Marine Corps and is sent to Vietnam as a journalist, covering -- and eventually participating in -- the bloody Battle of Hué.

Rated 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that around one in twelve critics would like a do-over.

Currently streaming in the US on Netflix and available for digital rental on multiple outlets.
posted by DirtyOldTown (28 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
A masterpiece, obviously. The only bad thing I can say is after the boot camp sequence the back half of the movie doesn't grab me in quite the same way, but it's still excellent start to finish
posted by kbanas at 6:57 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I am planning on rewatching this soon soon as I realized I have never seen it in widescreen. For years, Kubrick's official position was that full screen was a better way to watch films on TV than letterboxed. As such, he shot his films open matte with the full 1:33-1 filmed, and then matted them for theaters, showing the full screen on TV/video instead.

When this film popped into my head this week I realized I hadn't seen it in 20 years, and never at all in the theater... which means I've never seen the widescreen.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:06 AM on July 19


Story goes that R. Emey was only a consultant on the film, the on set expert there to make sure every thing was authentic, and that he got of the role of drill Sargent because the actor they original hired for the role was phoning it in durung rehearsals. Modine claims Emey's breath was so bad that the last thing you ever wanted was for him to be right up in your grill yeling at you.
posted by hoodrich at 8:33 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


A masterpiece, obviously.

It's a film made by an abuser that is essentially abuse porn.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:43 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


And still a masterpiece.
posted by hoodrich at 9:05 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


R. Lee Ermey probably had the highest ratio in Hollywood history of length and success of career to actual time and effort spent acting.

Story goes that R. Emey was only a consultant on the film, the on set expert there to make sure every thing was authentic, and that he got of the role of drill Sargent because the actor they original hired for the role was phoning it in durung rehearsals.

It wasn't that the first guy was bad -- Tim Corceri ended up as the helicopter door gunner -- it was that Ermey was perfect. Kubrick allowed him more latitude in writing and improvising his own dialogue than anyone else ever, and Kubrick worked with Peter Sellers twice.

As above, this is both a monstrous movie and a masterpiece. And, like nearly all anti-war movies, it is too easily mistaken for a pro-war movie (you probably think you have an idea of how much military instructors idolize Ermey; I promise you that you have no idea).
posted by Etrigan at 10:43 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


I mostly remember this one because I read the book that it's based on, The Short-Timers by Gus Hasford. It wasn't my favorite Vietnam book (that may still be Chickenhawk by Robert Mason), but the movie made the careers of Ermey and, arguably, Vincent D'Onofrio, who gained 70 pounds for the role, still a record.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:46 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


And, like nearly all anti-war movies, it is too easily mistaken for a pro-war movie (you probably think you have an idea of how much military instructors idolize Ermey; I promise you that you have no idea).

My family lived on post at Fort Knox when this movie came out and it was endlessly popular. Our tiny little single-screen movie theater at the end of the parade field played this movie, and only this movie, for months. It was around that time that the PX was selling lots of brightly colored t-shirts that said BORN IN THE USA on them.

Years later, when I found myself in full bewilderment living as an officer's wife, my ex used to yell "WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION" at our cat in a way that was both scolding and affectionate.
posted by mochapickle at 2:10 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I just watched something that had a scene that was a direct reference to the helicopter “get some!” “you just don’t lead them as much!” scene and it’s killing me that I can’t remember what it is.
posted by supercres at 11:40 PM on July 19


And, like nearly all anti-war movies, it is too easily mistaken for a pro-war movie (you probably think you have an idea of how much military instructors idolize Ermey; I promise you that you have no idea).

The effect is not limited to war movies. See also: Glengarry Glen Ross, Scarface, Wall Street, Falling Down, et.al. I’m sure there are many more, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

Essentially, if you’re making a message/metaphor film, you better damned well make your intent utterly, like-I’m-a-five-year-old, crystal clear. Otherwise, a huge chunk of the public (and, usually, the ones who really need to get the message) will take away the opposite message to the one you were intending to make.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:51 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]


I was just reading an old interview with Orson Welles in which he says that in a melodrama the human sympathy is inevitably with the villain.
posted by praemunire at 7:35 AM on July 20 [6 favorites]


I think about Wall Street quite a lot with the current crypto/NFT mania, and how many people didn't seem to get that the guy who proclaimed "Greed is good" ended up being prosecuted because he didn't stop to think that his young protégé might have second thoughts about selling out his dad's employer. And we see that with superhero stories: Homelander in The Boys, Rorschach in Watchmen, /r/thanosdidnothingwrong .
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:29 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]


Music gets its share of it, too. Both Mellencamp's Pink Houses and Springsteen's Born in the USA were used (without permission, natch) by Republican presidential candidates as theme songs at rallies, completely missing the actual meaning/lyrics of the songs.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:43 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


Essentially, if you’re making a message/metaphor film, you better damned well make your intent utterly, like-I’m-a-five-year-old, crystal clear.

I generally don't appreciate when movies take this tack. I don't think I'm alone here. Movies that do this tend to be preachy at best.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:50 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]


>> Essentially, if you’re making a message/metaphor film, you better damned well make your intent utterly, like-I’m-a-five-year-old, crystal clear.

> I generally don't appreciate when movies take this tack. I don't think I'm alone here. Movies that do this tend to be preachy at best.


I feel like it kind of depends on the genre and the anticipated (not necessarily intended) audience. When your thing (show/song/film) has a message, you as creator ought to ask yourself what the odds are that your intent will be interpreted in the exact opposite way?

If your thing is fantastical or inherently outlandish—e.g. heady sci-fi, or for a musical analogue, maybe Devo or Zappa or GWAR or something—maybe there's an inherent buffer against it being taken too directly, thus allowing for reduced preachiness.

If that's the case, then Kubrick, Springsteen, and Cougar/Non-Cougar-Mellencamp all erred in not being more obviously preachy. (I didn't really follow the Dixie Chicks stuff, but given the way their politics hurt their career back in the Dubya days, I wouldn't be surprised if they were more direct than Springsteen/Mellencamp were.) Kubrick may have thought he was making an art film with Full Metal Jacket, but perhaps he forgot/didn't realize that a realistic film about a historical war is apt to be taken at face value just because it is historically-realistic, by American audiences at least. (To be clear, that's a guess; this is one of the Kubrick films I haven't really studied.)

Undergraduates in my film class have missed the point of friggin' Platoon ferchrissakes. But by contrast, 2001 (though reliably befuddling to undergraduates) usually provokes real analysis that's deep, bold, original, and even contrarian. Rare indeed is the student who mistakes 2001 for a straightforward space adventure. (I dunno, maybe 2001 is an unfair example for my point, since it's possibly the most obviously metaphorical sci-fi film.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:36 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I don't want to make assumptions, but are we referring to artists and filmmakers who were largely creating works for US American audiences? And is your film class mostly or entirely composed of US American students?

I think the question of intent and message also falls within a historical context, and in this context the audience has sustained generations of highly effective and completely immersive messaging in their entertainments. I'm not making a very clear point, but I am trying to imagine a popular musical artist, or filmmaker, weaving their message into their work, in that context.

We can name all kinds of examples where the artist goes for broke and essentially holds up the ugliest indictment of the society to reflect back at the audience, and those kinds of creations are not often 'consumed' by a wider audience. I also don't think the comparison of 2001 and FMJ or Platoon is particularly apt for a number of reasons.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:47 AM on July 21


I saw this in our tiny small town theater when it came out. I was 10 years old. It scarred me, of that I'm sure, but I would not have developed the same sense of just how atrocious and dehumanizing war is without having witnessed that film at such an impressionable age. That said, I was also allowed to watch The Day After on television when I was six, so YMMV.
posted by Token Meme at 11:17 AM on July 21


It still amazes me to watch Vincent D’Onofrio in a show like Law and Order and then think "this is the guy that gained 70 pounds to play Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket"

And I just learned there's a Guinness Record for that and D'Onofrio holds it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:09 PM on July 21


Thorzdad: "Essentially, if you’re making a message/metaphor film, you better damned well make your intent utterly, like-I’m-a-five-year-old, crystal clear. Otherwise, a huge chunk of the public (and, usually, the ones who really need to get the message) will take away the opposite message to the one you were intending to make."

A lot of right-wing fans of The Boys were very upset when they finally figured out (three seasons in) that the character Homelander is a bad guy. His bad-guyness was not subtle.
posted by adamrice at 1:11 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Essentially, if you’re making a message/metaphor film, you better damned well make your intent utterly, like-I’m-a-five-year-old, crystal clear.

I generally don't appreciate when movies take this tack. I don't think I'm alone here. Movies that do this tend to be preachy at best.


Cf. every church-funded Rapture movie. (Incidentally, it is possible to make a great Rapture film.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:34 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Rewatching this on Netflix on a lazy afternoon.

D'Onofrio's performance in the soapbar beating scene is haunting. Visceral enough that it made me wonder if they really beat the hell out of him, but it's not just physical pain he's conveying. He sounds abandoned, betrayed, consigned to be a pariah.

It's a little unclear to me whether the guys on Paris island were supposed to be conscripts or volunteer enlistees. Joker is asked why he joined the marines, and later mentions wanting to join to meet people from new cultures (and kill them), but none of the group seems to be the sort to volunteer.

The marines I have met cannot get enough of this movie, knew every line and were happy to overlook any inaccuracies. But even they didn't seem to love it as a pro-war movie, as much as a symbol of what they went through and were proud to have been a part of.
posted by skewed at 2:42 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


I don't want to make assumptions, but are we referring to artists and filmmakers who were largely creating works for US American audiences? And is your film class mostly or entirely composed of US American students? [...] I also don't think the comparison of 2001 and FMJ or Platoon is particularly apt for a number of reasons.

You are correct in both assumptions! And I brought up 2001 only because it's also Kubrick and I've read more student essays on it than I can count :) so, limited sample size, obviously.

I think the question of intent and message also falls within a historical context [...] We can name all kinds of examples where the artist goes for broke and essentially holds up the ugliest indictment of the society to reflect back at the audience, and those kinds of creations are not often 'consumed' by a wider audience.

Absolutely. I guess what it really comes down to is, if you have a Message you want your audience to get, the sweet spot between the audience missing it entirely and the audience being put off by its anviliciousness (and/or accusatory tone) is basically impossible to hit squarely, especially if your audience is large and heterogenous (e.g. The Boys); you probably just have to be content to get through to a large portion of the audience, the size of that portion being influenced by how well you actually know your audience.

The marines I have met cannot get enough of this movie, knew every line and were happy to overlook any inaccuracies. But even they didn't seem to love it as a pro-war movie, as much as a symbol of what they went through and were proud to have been a part of.

Related link:
“It’s not pro-war or anti-war. It’s just the way things are,” Stanley Kubrick said of Full Metal Jacket (great behind-the-scenes photo of Modine in here)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:46 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


It's a little unclear to me whether the guys on Paris island were supposed to be conscripts or volunteer enlistees.

They would've almost all been draftees.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:46 PM on July 22


Excerpt from Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
Then we send a few guys downtown to rent all of the war movies they can get their hands on. They also buy a hell of a lot of beer. For three days we sit in our rec room and drink all of the beer and watch all of those damn movies, and we yell Semper fi and we head-butt and beat the crap out of each other and we get off on the various visions of carnage and violence and deceit, the raping and killing and pillaging. We concentrate on the Vietnam films because it's the most recent war, and the successes and failures of that war helped write our training manuals. We rewind and review famous scenes, such as Robert Duvall and his helicopter gunships during Apocalypse Now, and in the same film Martin Sheen floating up the fake Vietnamese Congo; we watch Willem Dafoe get shot by a friendly and left on the battlefield in Platoon; and we listen closely as Matthew Modine talks trash to a streetwalker in Full Metal Jacket. We watch again the ragged, tired, burnt-out fighters walking through the villes and the pretty native women smiling because if they don't smile, the fighters might kill their pigs or burn their cache of rice. We rewind the rape scenes when American soldiers return from the bush after killing many VC to sip cool beers in a thatch bar while whores sit on their laps for a song or two (a song from the fifties when America was still sweet) before they retire to rooms . . .

There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere, they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country, shooting fully automatic, forgetting they were trained to aim. But actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep and decide once and for all that war is inhumane and terrible, and they will tell their friends at church and their family this, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and Seaman Johnson at Coronado Naval Station and Spec 4 Johnson at Fort Bragg and Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man ...

We watch our films and drink our beer and occasionally someone begins weeping and exits the room to stand on the catwalk and stare at the Bullion Mountains, the treacherous, craggy range that borders our barracks. Once, this person is me. It's nearly midnight, the temperature still in the upper nineties, and the sky is wracked with stars. Moonlight spreads across the desert like a white fire. The door behind me remains open, and on the TV screen an ambush erupts on one of the famous murderous hills of Vietnam.

I reenter the room and look at the faces of my fellows. We are all afraid, but show this in various ways - violent indifference, fake ease, standard-issue bravura. We are afraid, but that doesn't mean we don't want to fight. It occurs to me that we will never be young again. I take my seat and return to the raging battle. The supposedly antiwar films have failed. Now is my time to step into the newest combat zone.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:54 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Eh. While FMJ is eminently rewatchable, it is a movie I can't take seriously most of the time. Accurate or not, it's just too over the top for me. But, without FMJ, Tour of Duty probably would not have started every episode with "Paint It Black."
posted by Stuka at 8:31 PM on July 24


The marines I have met cannot get enough of this movie, knew every line and were happy to overlook any inaccuracies. But even they didn't seem to love it as a pro-war movie, as much as a symbol of what they went through and were proud to have been a part of.

Years ago, my nephew enlisted in the Navy. He served on a carrier. The ship always had a contingent of Marines on-board. He told me the Marines liked to refer to themselves as “bullet sponges.” He also told me no one went near the Marines if they didn’t have to.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on July 25


It's a little unclear to me whether the guys on Paris island were supposed to be conscripts or volunteer enlistees.

They would've almost all been draftees.


About 90 percent of U.S. Marines in Vietnam were volunteers.
posted by Etrigan at 5:55 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


Alan Parker's Birdy, which also stars Matthew Modine, makes a fascinating film to pair with Full Metal Jacket.

FMJ stunned me as a teen. With a pair of buddies, I snuck into the theater, eager to compare it to both Apocalypse Now and Platoon, which we'd all seen the year before. I came home babbling about it to my Uncle Kent, who was visiting and had seen it, too. He was less impressed - he said, anyone who didn't predict who the sniper would be had gotten caught up in the spectacle and had forgotten they were watching a movie, where having the sniper revealed as just another soldier would have been more surprising.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:12 AM on July 25


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