With his brutal war movie, ‘Full Metal Jacket’, Stanley Kubrick explored the ethics of war and its revelations regarding the human condition. Let’s take a look at this horrifying character study and how it holds up in 2018.
In typical Kubrickian style, no time is wasted, the audience are immediately thrown into his world. The first thing we see after a quick flash of the title is a series of vacant expressions. Would-be soldiers stare blankly as their heads are shaved, ridding them of any individuality.
There is a palpable sense of wasted youth, ruined potential. Kubrick’s style has a way of making his message and themes, even techniques, blatantly obvious. This gives his films a greater feeling of satisfaction.
After all, art is designed to say something in an entertaining way. In this case, Stanley questions the morality of the Vietnam War as well as that of turning young men into killing machines.
These themes need little signposting, it is clear to see in the horrors of war and the training activities. He presents the facts like a documentarian, but they have already taken place, so he stages them and tasks a fictional character with the job.
Stanley speaks through his characters here. You get the impression that Kubrick wrote some of himself into Private Joker. Private Pyle is a vulnerable young adult with learning difficulties. He is not meant to be in the military environment but conscription has given him no choice.
During the course of his training, an at risk youth is turned from an innocent to a crazed killer. He is a tragic casualty of America’s aggressive foreign policy.
The dialogue is a departure from Kubrick’s typical scripting. In ‘2001’ and ‘The Shining’, the general feeling of unease is due in part to the sense that everyone has something to hide.
He very deliberately makes his characters speak in a stilted, rehearsed manner; this puts the audience into an unsettled malaise. In this film, the dialogue is extremely raw due to the realism.
From a distance Adam Baldwin’s character looks like Private Pyle. Joker looks like the decision-makers that have put them there. This is no doubt why they both take an instant dislike to eachother. The psychological profiles are fascinating.
As he is known to do, Kubrick uses colour motifs and subliminal messages. Red is seen throughout the dorm and a blood red evening sky provides the backdrop for one of the training drills. This is an omen of the coming carnage. In contrast, many civilian Vietnamese houses display a passive blue.
In one scene, the troop are running through the camp. As they sing; ‘I love working for Uncle Sam’, they pass a sign that reads: ‘STOP’.
Their deaths begin suddenly and feel cruel in their senselessness. Despite the blood and chaos, the film ends not on a roaring hurricane of violence. It ends on a chilling whispered secret.
In a dieing girl’s face, the troops see their own darkness and the horrors of war reflected back at them. They look inward at their own humanity and see something ugly there.