Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket
   Warner Bros. , 116 minutes, June 1987 Producer: Stanley Kubrick; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Gustav Hasford (based on his novel The Short-Timers), Michael Herr, and Kubrick; Cinematography: Douglas Milsome; Assistant Director:Terry Needham; Costume Design: Keith Denny; Sound: Nigel Galt, Joe Illing, Edward Tise; Special Effects: John Evans; Editor: Martin Hunter; Cast: Matthew Modine (Private Joker [Private James T. Davis]), Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), Vincent D’Onofrio (Private Gomer Pyle [Leonard Lawrence]), Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, drill instructor), Dorian Harewood (Private Eightball), Arliss Howard (Private Cowboy), Kevyn Major Howard (Private Rafterman), Ed O’Ross (Lt. Walter J. “Touchdown” Tinoshky), John Terry (Lieutenant Lockhart), Kieron Jecchinis (Crazy Earl), Bruce Boa (pogue colonel), Kirk Taylor (Private Payback), Jon Stafford (Doc Jay), Tim Colceri (door gunner), Ian Taylor (Lieutenant Cleves), Gary Landon Mills (Donlon), Sal Lopez (T. H. E. Rock), Papillon Soo Soo (Da Nang hooker), Ngoc Le (V. C. sniper), Peter Edmund (Snowball [Private Brown]), Tan Hung Francione (A. R. V. N. pimp), Leanne Hong (motorbike hooker), Marcus D’Amico (Hand Job), Costas Dino Chimona (Chili), Gil Koppel (Stoke), Keith Hodiak (Daddy D. A. ), Peter Merrill (TV journalist), Herbert Norville (Daytona Dave), and Nguyen Hue Phong (camera thief ).
   Full Metal Jacket is an antiwar film that recalls PATHS OF GLORY; it is derived from GUSTAV HASFORD’s book THE SHORT-TIMERS (1979). The movie, which STANLEY KUBRICK cowrote with Hasford and MICHAEL HERR, examines the experience of some marines during the Vietnam War. The movie’s title refers to the copper casing of the rifle cartridge that is the standard ammunition used by the marines in the field—perhaps a metaphor for the hard shell a tough fighting man is supposed to develop in order to face combat. The picture begins at the Parris Island marine corps boot camp, where a fresh group of recruits are training to fight in Vietnam. Among the rookies is the hero, Jim Davis, nicknamed Private Joker (MATTHEW MODINE), as well as Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (VINCENT D’ONOFRIO), a well-meaning but inept slob. The sadistic drill sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (LEE ERMEY), enjoys persecuting Leonard when he consistently fails to meet the physical demands of the training ground. If Hartman’s last name is meant to suggest “heart of man,” then surely the dark heart of man has never been so relentlessly portrayed on the screen as in this monstrous drill sergeant. Leonard inevitably becomes increasingly morose, withdrawn, and deeply disturbed before the training program is completed. The night before the group is to be shipped out to Vietnam, Hartman discovers Leonard, now totally deranged, in the latrine, brandishing a loaded rifle at Hartman. Leonard summarily shoots his persecutor dead and then turns the rifle on himself.
   Several months later, Joker and his comrades, now serving in Vietnam, enjoy a temporary cessation of hostilities occasioned by the holiday season, the Vietnam Lunar New Year (Tet). When the enemy instigates surprise attacks on the marine forces, the results are devastating. The film is climaxed by an extended battle sequence in which Joker and his platoon become engaged in street fighting with snipers in a fire-gutted, rubble-strewn town held by the enemy. An unseen sniper systematically picks off three members of Joker’s platoon before Joker locates the sniper in the ruins of a demolished building. The sniper turns out to be a Vietnamese girl; by this time she has been mortally wounded by another marine. She abjectly begs Joker to end her suffering, and he reluctantly complies by shooting her at point-blank range in the head. The film ends with Joker and his comrades moving on to their next encounter with the enemy through the dark desolation of war. Asked about the deeper implications of the picture, Kubrick usually replied that the film is built around the concept of humanity’s fundamental capacity for both good and evil: altruism and cooperation on the one hand, aggression and xenophobia on the other. This idea is most clearly articulated in the movie when a hard-bitten old colonel notices that Joker is wearing a helmet that bears the slogan, “Born to Kill,” while he also sports a peace button on his battle fatigues. When the officer presses Joker for an explanation, he replies,“I suppose I was trying to say something about the duality of man. ”The contrary inclinations in human nature toward altruism and aggression, then, are epitomized by the two emblems which Joker continues to wear throughout the picture. In any case, the officer can only sputter in reply to Joker,“It’s a hardball world, son;we’ve got to keep our heads. ”
   Joker’s own ambivalence about his attitude toward the war is brought into relief in the battle scene described above, when he gazes down upon the mortally wounded sniper who has killed three of his buddies. When the sniper, a young girl, beseeches him to finish her off, he at first hesitates and then complies. Is his act principally motivated by mercy or revenge? Joker does not seem to know himself. On the one hand, film scholar Luis Mainar writes that Joker appears to kill her out of compassion:“The fact that Joker kills her to spare her the pain of a slow death reconciles the act of killing with America’s constant justification for its presence in Vietnam: it intervened to help the Vietnamese. ” Joker therefore is “helping the Vietnamese” by putting the girl out of her misery. On the other hand, as Claude Smith suggests in Literature/Film Quarterly, “Although one might argue that the action is a mercy killing, one can just as readily interpret it as as a classic ‘payback’ for the sniper’s having wasted Joker’s comrades. ” Yet, one suspects, his conflicting emotions about the fate of the sniper are meant to represent once more the contrary inclinations in human nature toward altruism and aggression—drives which, as already mentioned, are epitomized by the two emblems which Joker wears throughout the movie. Clearly Full Metal Jacket can be characterized as a disturbing war movie that offers no ready answers to the painful political and moral issues it raises. During the scene in which one of Joker’s comrades is ambushed by the sniper, a tall, monolithic building looms large in the background as the soldier lies dying. Some critics assumed that the building was meant to recall the monolith that served as an omen in 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY that extraterrestrial intelligences were monitoring the human race; Kubrick responded that the building’s resemblance to the monolith in 2001 was not intentional on his part, but it remains a thought-provoking reference to the earlier film, just the same.
   Full Metal Jacket relentlessly takes the recruits from boot camp, where they are trained by the military machine, to combat, where they have become part of the killing machine. Giannetti and Eyman single out the battle scenes as “stunning in their power and technical brilliance,” thereby recalling the battlefield sequences of Paths of Glory. Indeed, the battle scenes in the present film, which are “totally unnerving, . . . are among the best ever filmed. ”
   ALEXANDER WALKER, in his book on Kubrick, opines that the film has the most conventional plot of any Kubrick movie. On the contrary, to define the plot of this episodic film, which is really more of a character study of men at war than a plot-driven movie, is like trying to define the melodic line of a symphony. Surely Kubrick’s epic BARRY LYNDON has a much more conventional plotline than Full Metal Jacket.
   Full Metal Jacket is similar to Kubrick’s other pictures, in that the characters fail frequently through a mixture of unforeseen chance happenings and human frailty. In a Kubrick film, human weakness or malice and chance are always waiting in the wings to foil the heroes and antiheroes. Thus in THE KILLING, the gang’s scheme, to get away with a carefully planned racetrack robbery, ultimately comes to nothing, while in SPARTACUS the slave revolt is squelched by the armies of Rome. In Full Metal Jacket, the surprise attacks mounted by the enemy during the holiday cease-fire turn the tide of war against the marines. In addition, Sergeant Hartman’s determined efforts to manufacture Leonard into a dehumanized killing machine backfire when Leonard kills both Hartman and himself—the killing machine has killed too soon.
   Kubrick’s dark vision suggests that the best-laid plans often go awry, as human imperfections and the laws of chance militate against his characters. Since Kubrick’s films reflect the extreme precariousness of everything, it is not surprising that he was meticulous in planning his films. He told Gene Phillips that he wanted to keep the disorder and confusion that dog human existence away from his set as much as possible.
   Full Metal Jacket turned out to be a box office winner, but did not please some of the critics, who found the film too discouraging and downbeat. One British periodical went so far as to assert that at film’s end, when the marines stride onward toward perdition, Kubrick offers the viewer the despair of an earlier novelist such as Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness, 1902). On the other side of the ledger, some critics endorsed Kubrick for reinventing the genre of the antiwar film with a picture that is neither jingoistic nor sentimental. Indeed, Kubrick’s depiction of the smoking hell of Vietnam presents man as God made him in a world God never made.
   Some critics were positively impressed with the manner in which Kubrick adroitly employed pop tunes of the period on the soundtrack, such as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking. ” The original music for the film was composed by ABIGAIL MEAD, who was really Kubrick’s youngest daughter, Matthew Modine (foreground) and Adam Baldwin (background) in Full Metal Jacket (1987) (Kubrick estate) Vivian (she used a pseudonym so that her dramatic underscore would be judged on its own merits). Reassessments of the movie over the years have proved ever more positive. Full Metal Jacket is “a powerful visceral experience which leads the audience through the horror of Vietnam in a riveting fashion,” records Thomas Nelson in his book on Kubrick; “it remains one of the best and most uncompromising of the Vietnam films. ” Robert Kolker adds in The Cinema of Loneliness that no other Vietnam film except Apocalypse Now “so expresses the hopelessness and confused motivations of that war” with such uncompromising realism. Gerry Reaves further notes in Literature/ Film Quarterly, “Whatever one may feel about the morality of war, Kubrick drives home the paradox of wartime atrocities done in the name of humanism and democracy. ” Perhaps Richard Corliss said it best in Time: “A viewer is left to savor . . . the Olympian elegance and precision of Kubrick’s filmmaking. It fails only by the standards the director demands be set for him. By normal movie standards, with whatever reservations one may entertain, the film is a technical knockout. ”
   ■ Cahill, Tim, “Interview: Stanley Kubrick,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 189–202;
   ■ Castle, Robert, and Stephen Donatelli, “Kubrick’s Ulterior War,” Film Comment 34, no. 5 (September/ October 1998): 24–28;
   ■ Chion, Michel, Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey (London: British Film Institute, 2001);
   ■ Corliss, Richard,“Welcome to Vietnam, the Movie,” Time, June 29, 1987, p. 66;
   ■ Herr, Michael, Kubrick (New York: Grove Press, 2000);
   ■ Kolker, Robert, A Cinema of Loneliness, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 114–119;
   ■ Kubrick, Stanley, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket: A Screenplay (New York: Knopf, 1987);
   ■ Mainar, Luis, Narrative and Stylistic Patterns in the Films of Stanley Kubrick (Rochester, N. Y. : Camden House, 2000), pp. 197–237, Maslin, Janet, “Inside the Jacket,New York Times, July 5, 1987, sec. 2, pp. 17, 30;
   ■ Nelson,Thomas, Kubrick: Inside an Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2000), pp. 228–259;
   ■ Reaves, Gerri, “Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket: The Fracturing of Identification,” Literature/Film Quarterly 16, no. 4 (fall 1988): 232–237;
   ■ Smith, Claude, “Full Metal Jacket and the Beast Within,” Literature/Film Quarterly 16, no. 4 (fall 1988): 226–231;
   ■ Walker, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick, Director, rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 314–343.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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