Full Metal Jacket is a film famously criticized for its second act, or rather, the odd shift in tone between its Paris
Island and Vietnam segments. This article deals with explaining the initially off-putting juxtapositions in Kubrick’s
Vietnam War film, and is also an attempt to get you to “read” the imagery in Full Metal Jacket as you would “read”
Kubrick’s more overtly symbolic works.
But before we run through the film, several points need to be made:
1. Full Metal Jacket is about Colonization in the widest sense of the term- colonization of the Self as well as
of territorial frontiers. Once the mind of the individual is successfully conquered, he is then free to move out into the
world and colonize territory in the name of ideology.
2. Full Metal Jacket isn’t only an anti war film. It goes one up. It’s an anti "war film" film. It’s
deliberately self-reflexive. From Joker's opening line onwards, Kubrick destabilizes those familiar war movie myths and portrays
the Vietnam War by way of a narrative that, like the war itself, frustrates expectations and refuses to progress.
3. In interviews, Kubrick explained that he wished to make a film about Jung’s concept of the Shadow. In
Jungian psychology, the "Shadow" is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts.
For a marine, this "weakness" is linked to anything deemed to be Infantile (Pyle) or Feminine (Sniper). As such, Full Metal Jacket is
concerned with discovering what needs to be conquered in order to create a killing machine, the military destroying everything
that opposes masculinity, until the perfect solider is achieved.
4. Kubrick's film is openly critical of "the Jungian thing". There are no archetypes of the unconscious. Such symbols
are entirely imaginary. Rather, Kubrick's film portrays the military as constructing such archetypes for the purpose of creating
further archetypes. That is, the killer cannot be created unless the Feminine Other is first constructed as a symbolic enemy
within the Self, debased and then killed.
The irony at the end of the film is that the female sniper is every bit the masculinized killer as the marines. Joker’s killing of the sniper, therefore, like Pyle's earlier suicide, is
not merely an act of further "rejecting the feminine", but is itself a suicidal act.
5. The film argues that prostitution (and soldiering) simultaneously serves both to undermine and to
reinforce patriarchal constructions of masculinity, femininity, and marriage in society. Prostitution undermines by killing
off the real Self through an objectification of the Other and it reinforces by preserving the structures of (including sexual)
patriarchal power. In both Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick shows that prostitution is always first and foremost
an economic transaction, a colonialist act, a negotiation which serves to strengthen the power (and masculine mythology) of
the man and the economic viability (and feminine mythology) of the woman (and the power and wealth of the pimp) - hence its
instant self-gratificatory seductiveness for all parties.
More importantly, when the economics of such
a transaction are removed, or replaced with violence, we have what is normally defined as rape. Indeed, though the film’s
final killing is often viewed by critics to be an act of “mercy”, Kubrick leaves numerous clues to imply that
we are witnessing a symbolic rape. The film’s final act therefore becomes a representation of the marines’ sexual
experiences with the hooker in the cinema. Kubrick thus illustrates that prostitution is an act of sexual nihilism for both
parties, one which negates the true purpose of marriage/cohabitation while, paradoxically, simultaneously reinforcing marriage's
patriarchal prerogatives as an economic institution.
6. While A Clockwork Orange
looked at removing a killer's freedom of will in order to create a passive, "normal" human being, Full Metal Jacket
looks at removing man's freewill in order to create a cold hard killer. Interestingly, in both A Clockwork Orange and Full
Metal Jacket, the subjects of both experiments become loyal slaves to ideology. In this regard, Full Metal Jacket goes beyond
the usual “war is hell” message of most war films. To Kubrick, the logical outcome of war is not “dehumanisation”
but a suicidal loss of the Self, the doomed marines becoming whores to a larger Mickey Mouse culture.
7. The film is built around contrasting pairs or doubles. This dichotomy permeates every aspect
of the film. From the dialogue (sound off like you've got a pair, this is my rifle, this is my gun), to the characters (masculine/feminine,
whore/marine, Joker/Pyle, marine/reporter, mother/father), to the marine’s fragmented persona (is this you John
Wayne, is this me?), to the music (militaristic vs absurd) and finally to the film's dual structure itself.
And it is this narrative structure which has proven to be an obstacle for most audiences. They perceive the film’s
narrative dissolution to be an error, rather than a deliberate choice on Kubrick’s part. But upon further examination,
such a collapse is the very point of the film. The first half of “Full Metal Jacket” shows the hyper masculinized
marines being constructed, and as such the film is precise, militaristic and tightly woven. In contrast, the second half of
the film shows this conditioning falling apart, and is thus loose and aimless. This notion of duality is infused in the very
language of the film itself.
The rest of this article consists of a scene-by-scene breakdown on the film. It is an attempt to merge the writings
of Paula-Willoquet Maricondi (Full Metal Jacket: Masculinity in the Making), Padraig L Henry (Deconstructing Masculinity
), Tony Williams (Narrative Patterns and Mythic Trajectories), Bill Krohn (Corporations ), Thomas Nelson (The
Kubrickian Thing), Michael Pursell (FMJ: The Unravelling of Patriarchy), Susan Jeffords and philosophers Slavoj Zizek and
Gilles Deleuze, both of whom have written briefly on the film.
ACT ONE: PARIS ISLAND
"The substance was single-minded: the old and
always serious problem of how you put into a film, the living, behaving presence of what Jung called the Shadow." –
"War clearly follows the same movement as capitalism:
In the same way as the proportion of constant capital keeps growing, war becomes increasingly a "war of material" in which
the human being no longer even represents a variable capital of subjection, but is instead a pure element of machinic enslavement."
- Gilles Deleuze
film begins with young soldiers getting their heads shaven. Their identities are being stripped. During this brief primer
scene only two marines have sly grins on their faces: Private Pyle, who finds the whole dehumanising process childishly amusing,
and Private Joker, who believes that his "jacket" of irony and cynical intelligence will protect him from the military’s
this scene, Johnny Wright’s “Hello Vietnam” plays on the soundtrack. The song speaks of “stopping
Communism” and “saving freedom”. The marines are thus willing to give up their hair (a symbol of femininity)
and their bodies, for what they perceive to be a noble cause. The verses Kubrick chooses, however, lend the song a far more
satirical edge. “Kiss me goodbye” sounds more like a joke (these guys will die) than a dutiful farewell.
opening montage ends with a shot of a floor completely covered in hair. This theme will continue over the next 40 minutes,
as the military systematically strips these boys of all traces of femininity.
Hartman introduces himself to the Marines. He is a figure of power, able to command the movements of the camera. Like Buck
Turgidson in Dr Strangelove, his name (heart of man) suggests that he is a strong, hyper-masculinized character. Moreover,
the recruits stand perfectly symmetrical and identical, suggesting a loss of individuality. They are virtually undistinguishable,
identical in hair, clothing and physique.
once again links Joker with Pyle by having them replace one another in the boot camp line up. When Hartman passes down the
corridor for the first time, Joker is to his right, whilst Pyle is two marines away to the left. When Hartman re-approaches,
Joker and Pyle have switched positions. This mirroring will take place throughout the film, as Joker symbolically loses his
Self in a suicidal act akin to Pyle's.
his introductory speech, Hartman abuses several marines. The first to be mocked is Private Brown, whom he designates Private
Snowball (brown turned to white). Hartman thus has the power to reverse the very identities of these young men.
Hartman is across the room, Joker says, “Is this you John Wayne, is this me?” Joker is questioning his identity.
Is he John Wayne (a killer) or is he able to maintain his own personal identity? Joker hopes that his intelligence and cynicism
can protect him from the military’s indoctrination.
John Wayne is famous for playing numerous western and military roles. With films such as “The Green Berets”, “The
Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Fort Apache”, Wayne became synonymous with the quintessential iconography of heroic,
unflinching Americanism, always willing to fight the enemy, be they Vietnamese dogs or Indian savages.
being aware of his duality (aggression and xenophobia vs altruism and compassion) Joker hopes to resist Hartman’s thought
reform. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that it is precisely cadets like Joker, whom the military require. It is
precisely Joker’s detachment that allows him to become an efficiently functioning, unknowing slave to ideology. As Kubrick
states, the marines do not want one-dimensional robots (Pyle). They want killers who can rationalise their violent actions
accuses Private Cowboy of speaking. Joker defends Cowboy by accepting the blame and giving himself up to Hartman.
Hartman proceeds to assault Joker. As Joker collapses to his knees, Hartman looks down the camera and addresses the audience
directly: “You will not laugh, you will not cry, you will learn by the numbers!” This scene echoes the “Viddy
well” scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, where Alex urges his audience to watch his violence carefully.
Hartman commands Joker to show him his war face. Joker does as told. Hartman isn’t convinced. As Joker says, “The
USMC is a place for the phoney tough and the crazy brave.” Joker is the phoney tough.
12. Hartman then proceeds to re-name his
recruits. These nicknames are significant. The film’s protagonist is nicknamed “Joker”, signifying his primary
trait as a thinking man. He “thinks” everything is a “big joke”. Joker’s Jungian opposite in
Vietnam is nicknamed "Animal Mother", very close to the Jungian concept of the "mother anima". Pyle is named after a homosexual
character in a TV show, further implying that this childish man is far more effeminate that the rest of the recruits.
13. Throughout the film, all intellectual
characters (Cowboy, Joker) are depicted as wearing glasses. This symbolizes their reliance on “sensation”, “rationality”
or “visual sight”. For example, Joker aggravates his editor by insisting on a visual sighting of a "blood trail"
before writing a story about "enemy kills".
In contrast, Animal Mother relies on his
"animal instincts" to make decisions. While the “thinking men” are cautious and prone to life threatening hesitancy,
Animal Mother instinctively knows that there is “only one sniper”.
We are then subjected to 30 minutes of abuse as Sgt Hartman continually calls into question the marine's sexuality. He calls
them ladies, queers, fags, sailors…a single-minded process of masculine purification. Every trace of femininity is then
systematically eradicated. “Female” is replaced with “weapon". The whole thing escalates into a pseudo
religion where the recruits pray to their rifles, recite chants and make ritual sacrifices so that “the Virgin Mary
would be proud to take a dump”.
Kubrick draws parallels between religious indoctrination and military indoctrination. Signs throughout the barracks make
reference to prayer time and Catholic sermons, the marines are ordered to pray and worship the Virgin Mary, their goal is
to be born again and they are constantly told that
they are doing God's will. Later, Private Joker is asked whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. Joker says that he does not.
He is a freethinker, atheist and cynic. It is his ability to think independently that leads to his promotion.
During the first act, Sgt. Hartman brazenly establishes the goals of the boot camp. “You will be a weapon! You will
be a minister of death, praying for war!” Here, Hartman all but spells out this theme of religious rebirth. He declares
that a kind of evolution will take place on Parris Island, yelling, “Until that day, you are the lowest form of life
on Earth! You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized, grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!”
The word “amphibian” quietly conjures up the notion of evolution, as it classifies these young men as
subhuman. They are an inferior species awaiting growth. To foster this growth, the military creates two archetypes, the Child
and the Feminine Other, which the cadets must be conditioned to view as obstacles, as pieces of shit which must be flushed
out. Once the Child (Pyle) and the Feminine Other (sniper) are destroyed, the marine group is free to evolve further.
The blood red floor upon which Hartman walks echoes numerous other red floors in Kubrick's filmography, notably the mansion
in Eyes Wide Shut and the red floors of the Overlook Hotel. These are places of power in which human's are mere pawns, doing
the bidding of unseen overseers.
It is Hartman’s job to destroy any weakness within these recruits, and this “weakness” is constantly associated
with femininity, infancy and homosexuality (Pyle himself is named after a gay character in a TV show). Essentially, Hartman
seeks to replace all femininity with things linked to violence. Notice the not-too-subtle example of this when Hartman forces
the recruits to lie next to their rifles while they sleep. “You will give your rifle a girl’s name! Because this
is the only pussy you people are going to get! You’re married to this piece—this weapon of iron and wood—and
you will be faithful!”
only does this replace the feminine with something wholly unfeminine, but it also plays on man’s baser needs. A
man must have sex to function. But the film never divides the soldier from sex. It is romance that is replaced with a sexuality
that is entirely devoid of love or innocence. Indeed, this is evident when the recruits chant during their morning run: “I
don’t want no teenage queen. I just want my M-14!”
During a training exercise, Pyle goofs up. He doesn’t recognise his left shoulder from his right shoulder. “You
just want to be different!” Hartman accuses him, and slaps Pyle repeatedly.
that during this scene, Kubrick’s composition is such that it appears as though columns of marines marching in the background
enter Hartman’s mouth in the foreground. Hartman consumes men and spits them back out, but Pyle does not respond well
to this brutal training.
As punishment for his “refusal to learn”, Pyle is made to march with his pants down and his thumb in his mouth.
Throughout the film, Pyle will be portrayed as a baby, twice shown sucking his thumb. He’s a child, an infant. On a
symbolic level, it is precisely Pyle’s qualities which prevent the military group from progressing. If the group is
to evolve into killers, they must first destroy their Infantile Self. Only after the destruction of Pyle, the ridding of their
baby fat, can these men progress.
The marines are presented with a series of obstacles. Pyle fails them all. After this training montage, the marines are seen
running through a lake of mud. Pyle falls and the entire group collapses. They struggle to pick him up. Pyle is becoming a
burden to the group.
Joker is given responsibility of Pyle.
Hartman: Private Joker, do
you believe in the Virgin Mary?
Joker: Sir, no, sir!
Hartman: Well, well, Private
Joker, I don't believe I heard you correctly!
Joker: Sir, the private
said "no, sir," sir!
Hartman: You Goddamn communist
heathen, you had best sound off that you love the Virgin Mary, or I'm gonna stomp your guts out! Now you DO love the Virgin
Mary, don't you?
Joker: Sir, NEGATIVE, sir!
that Joker is outside the system, and is not being swayed by the military’s mind control (which up to this point has
been likened to religious indoctrination), Hartman makes a clever choice. Instead of persecuting Joker for not being part
of the group, he promotes him. Joker is slowly and unwillingly being made a slave to the very system he mocks.
takes over from Private Snowball and inherits the responsibility of Pyle.
Kubrick uses “left to right” compositions to highlight the traditional way in which we process information. This
is the method of indoctrination used by Hartman on his boys. Hartman, the symbolic Father, uses a tough, dispassionate, indoctrination
approach on Pyle. Private Pyle, however, is unresponsive, and so he is assigned a new teacher, Private Joker.
Private Joker symbolises the Mother. He uses compassion, love and intimacy to teach Pyle. Joker’s unorthodox teaching
is demonstrated using “right to left” compositions. This notion of “Mother” and “Father”
(feminised compassion vs masculinized aggression) is highlighted prior to Pyle’s suicide. “What is your major
malfunction, numbnuts?” Hartman screams, with Joker at his side. “Didn’t Mommy and Daddy show you enough
attention when you were a child?”
Hartman, Joker teaches Pyle to distinguish between his “left shoulder and right shoulder” in a calm and tolerant
manner. Joker is so out of sync with Hartman, that when Joker teaches Pyle to put his gun on his “right shoulder”,
we see and hear Hartman in the background teaching the rest of the marines the exact opposite. When tying his shoelaces, Joker
also verbally and visually teaches Pyle how to put his “left lace over the right” and the “right lace over
the left”. In the next scene, Joker shows Pyle how to put his left leg over the other when climbing the obstacle. This
contrasts with an earlier sequence in which Hartman fails to bully Pyle over the obstacle.
Under Joker's unorthodox teaching, Pyle seems to progress. Several shots imply that Pyle is shaping up to be a competent marine.
He now recognises his left and right and seems to be losing his baby fat.
As the marines march, Kubrick dissolves the image and fades into a rifle range. For a brief moment the men are superimposed
over the image of rifle targets. The message is clear: these young men are disposable targets, being lined up for potential
28. On the rifle range, Hartman says: “Your rifle is only
a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not CLEAN and STRONG, you will hesitate at the moment
of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead marines. And then you will be in a world of shit!”
Later in the film, Joker hesitates at the moment of truth. He fails
to kill the sniper because he does not have a “hard heart” and a “clean head”. Joker’s thinking,
rational, conscious mind has failed him at the crucial moment. This, rather than a “jammed gun”, is the reason
for his impotence.
The film is filled with references to “cleaning out the head”. Kubrick links the notion of “flushing out
your headgear” and “becoming a killer” to the literal act of cleaning, mopping and polishing the Head (bathroom).
Under Joker’s teaching, Pyle seems to progress, but only up to a point. Humans are pleasure-centric animals, and basic
human temptation creeps in. Like a dopey baby, Pyle has little personal control, and so his inability to resist food (pleasure),
is his downfall.
Hartman continually punishes the marine group for their “inability to deal with Pyle”.
The marines, motivated by vengeance, pin Pyle to his bed and beat him violently with bars of soap. They want to wash him away.
Joker, despite his initial facade of compassion, beats Pyle the hardest. This is the first sign that Joker has some primal
killer instinct buried deep within him.
32. The film is filled with references to “washing”, “cleaning”
and “flushing”. While such soap hazings do take place in the military, the idea of washing Pyle away and later
flushing him out of the head (his toilet suicide) fits in with Kubrick’s theme of masculine purification (“if
your killer instinct is not clean you will hesitate!”). Later, Rafterman is told to “flush out his head-gear”
when discussing “freedom”. Rafterman’s ideas of a noble and just war are flushed out of his head and replaced
with one of sex and vengeance.
In both the “beating of Pyle” and the “killing of the sniper” scenes, the marines are motivated solely
by revenge. As Animal Mother says at the end of the film, “let’s get some payback!” The notion of “payback”
is present in all 3 acts. In the first act, the marines “pay back” Pyle by beating him with soap. In the second
act, a marine called Payback teaches Joker about the “thousand yard stare” and “war face”. In the
final act, the marines kill the sniper in an attempt to pay her back for their fallen comrades.
the film, Kubrick links the notion of “payback” to the acquisition of the “war face”. Jung says this
himself in his writings, believing that the Shadow hides out of sight, only appearing to counter man’s virtues with
sudden flashes of anger, fear, vengeance and unwarranted suspicions of the Other.
The “beating of Pyle” is shot with the same blue hue as Pyle’s suicide. Pyle’s suicide is a direct
result of his “beating”. From here on, Pyle ceases to be an effeminate child and proceeds to bury himself in work.
He quickly “shapes up”. He is now a bitter killer. He is a one-dimensional psychopath, lacking any sense of empathy,
compassion or attachments to the hive.
the marines beat Pyle in a manner which echoes the apes beating one another in “2001” (with femurs), and Alex
beating his foes in A Clockwork Orange (with canes and weapons).
While storm clouds rumble overhead, Hartman speaks to the men about the Kennedy assassination. Later in the film, the sniper
will assume the role of assassin.
Though the Marine’s sing happy birthday to Jesus, it’s really Pyle’s birthday. From this moment onwards,
Pyle is portrayed as a methodical, competent marine. He has been reborn. The child is now a killer.
Like “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Full Metal Jacket” is filled with “rebirth” motifs. The
celebration of birthdays is one such example. At Christmas on Parris Island, Hartman leads the men in a chanting of “happy
birthday”. The celebration of a birthday is reminiscent of this notion of rebirth. But further still, by celebrating
Christ’s birthday, the marines are, in a sense, celebrating Christ’s eventual resurrection. This resurrection
is suggestive of their eventual resurrection into killers.
second half of the film, the apathetic American soldiers celebrate the birthday of a dead Vietnamese soldier. Here the celebration
of a corpse’s birthday seems to be a celebration of death. The irony of celebrating a man’s death day as a birthday
is also suggestive of rebirth—signifying the death of the old and birth of the new.
resurrections after scenes of death take place twice in the film. Firstly, when Pyle kills himself and secondly when
Joker kills the sniper. Both deaths represent the death of specific qualities which result in the birth of a new being.
Note that in the original screenplay, during the final narration, Joker implicitly says, “It is my birthday”.
The implication is that, after killing the sniper, Joker is reborn. Preferring to keep things ambiguous, Kubrick omits this
line from the film’s final cut.
Kubrick now gives us two scenes dealing with cleaning. In the first, Pyle cleans his rifle. In the second, Joker and Cowboy
mop the Head. Both scenes deal with the budding sexuality of the marines.
In the first “cleaning scene”, Joker watches as Pyle talks quietly to Charlene, his
feminized rifle. Pyle thinks his rifle is beautiful, perfect, smooth and sexy. Creation and destruction, penis and
rifle, gun and girlfriend, fighting and fun, become one.
Note: Charlene is the effeminate equivalent of the name Charlie, the marine's slang for the Vietnamese enemy.
In the second “cleaning scene”, Joker and Cowboy discuss Pyle whilst mopping the Head. Though Joker is concerned
about Leonard, Cowboy doesn’t care.
Leonard talks to his rifle.
I don’t think Leonard can hack it anymore. I think Leonard’s a section 8.
That don’t surprise me.
I want to slip my tubesteak into your sister. What do you take in trade?
Joker wears blue slippers, Cowboy wears red slippers, and the walls are all white. Like “The Shining”, the red,
blue and white colour scheme highlights the notion of Americana
The line "what do you take in trade?" echoes numerous allusions to “trade” and “business”
in the second act of the film. Full Metal Jacket explores the analogy between war and prostitution, emphasizing the body and
soul selling aspect of the military experience. As such, the middle section of the film (ie the Vietnam war) is framed by
episodes of Americans making trades with Vietnamese prostitutes. This formally establishes the film's connection between prostitution
and trade, between sex and technology and between soldiers and whores.
prostitutes in Full Metal Jacket symbolize the further, ultimate subjugation of the female-as-feminine to the level of a tradable
commodity. They are infertile sex machines. They are
prostitutes of the sex-trade, whereas the soldiers, as infertile
killing machines, are prostitutes of the rifle-war-trade, both groups victimised and dehumanised by the one-dimensional collapse
and mutilation of their organic identities.
42. Joker’s wish to fuck Cowboy’s sister mirrors a similar scene in Vietnam. The film thus contains dual
references to sisters:
"I like you, you can come over and fuck my sister."
"I want to slip my tubesteak in your sister."
"You've been getting any?" - "Only your sister."
"Hey, little yellow sister."
In the third act, the marines realise their wish and finally rifle-fuck the sniper.
43. These two “cleaning scenes” reinforce the association between sexual power and technological power.
While Pyle lusts for his gun, Joker and Cowboy have erections whilst talking about Pyle's rifle. They have bulges in their
pants, their phallic mops in their hands and a slit even appears in Joker's shorts when he talks about slipping his tubesteak
into Cowboy's sister.
44. Joker and Cowboy are beginning to identify with their guns. Joker has linked this sexual desire to his recollection
of Pyle delicately cleaning and talking to his "smooth", "nice", "perfect" and "beautiful" M-14. Joker is now sexually aroused
by his recollection of Pyle's intimate relationship with his rifle. Aroused by this erotic, identification with his gun, Joker
then asks to fuck Cowboy’s sister.
Although these "cleaning the head" scenes foreshadow Pyle being "born again hard" (an erotic, infertile unification
with his rifle), they also subtly reveal how the same process is affecting Joker and Cowboy
In short, though both Joker and Pyle are now aroused by their weapons, Joker is still able to make the distinction
between “sex” (Cowboy’s sister) and “rifle”. Pyle cannot make this distinction.
45. Pyle is on the firing range. He’s an excellent shot. Hartman is impressed. “You are definitely born
46. We’re then given the final of 3 marching sequences. In the first marching sequence, Hartman conditions
the men to love physical training. In his chants he makes it clear that, rather than sex, it is physical training that is
good for you. In the second marching sequence, Hartman conditions the men to love their country and the Corps. In the third
sequence, Hartman conditions the men to love their rifles (I don’t want no teenage queen, I just want my M14).
47. The marines run toward camera in slow motion, screaming and yelling like animals. This short scene mirrors an earlier
scene in which the marines ran toward camera, tumbled over Pyle and collapsed in a pit of mud. The difference is that Pyle
is now a competent marine. The group no longer needs to carry him. They are finally functioning as a unit. They are no longer
stuck in the mud.
48. The group has eradiated all traces of the Infantile and Female Other. They are now hyper-masculinized killers.
It is now time for…
49. Graduation Day. Hartman stands before the group and says, “Today, you are no longer maggots. Today you are
marines. You’re part of a brotherhood. From now on, until the day you die, every marine is your brother!”
Kubrick cuts to stock footage of a real marine graduation ceremony when the line “You’re part of a brotherhood”
50. Hartman designates roles to his men. While Cowboy and Pyle are assigned to the Infantry, Joker is assigned to Basic
Military Journalism. Thus, Joker has successfully resisted Hartman’s indoctrination. He is not John Wayne. He is not
a killer. He has feigned obedience and pretended to be part of the group. His aloof cynicism has allowed him to maintain a
certain level of detachment.
“You’re not a writer,” Hartman yells, “you’re a killer!”
Joker responds quickly. “A killer! Yes sir!”
Joker has learnt to give Hartman exactly what he wants. But it’s all an act.
51. Interestingly, Joker is told to report for “Basic Military Journalism” at 42-12. While the other Marines
are given correct Military Occupational Speciality Numbers (MOS numbers), Joker is given a nonsensical one.
Here are genuine MOS numbers:
Basic Combat Correspondent
Perhaps Kubrick is alluding to Danny Torrance, who in “The Shining” was frequently linked to the numbers
42 and 12. One may view Joker as a grown up version of Danny. Danny survived the oppressive history of the Overlook Hotel,
joins the military and, because of his experiences, has learnt to treat such institutions with scepticism. Later in the film,
before Joker kills the sniper, there is another reference to “The Shining”. He passes a maze in the rubble. Danny
thus escapes the Maze in “The Shining”, only to find himself back in the Maze at the end of “Full Metal
Jacket”. Like his father, he’s forced to do the murderous duty of the Mickey Mouse Club. Interestingly, Danny
also wore a Mickey Mouse sweater in “The Shining”.
Or perhaps 42-12 was simply a MOS number during the Vietnam era and has subsequently changed.
52. While the other marines sleep, Joker patrols the barracks. This sequence is shot with the same blue hue (and music)
as an earlier sequence in which Pyle was pinned to his bed and beaten with bars of soap. That sequence ended with the line
“it’s just a bad dream, fat boy”, while this sequence begins with the line “what are you two animals
doing in my Head!?”
On a symbolic level, this sequence is all “in the head”. Like a dream, it’s a psychological process
which is being demonstrated to us by Kubrick using 3 archetypes: The Father (Hartman), Mother (Joker) and Child (Pyle).
The Father, Mother and Child are all in the Self’s Head. For the marine group to develop further, it must kill
the Child, murder the Mother and cut all attachments with the Father. But though Hartman and Pyle are killed, Joker survives.
He has resisted the military’s process of masculine purification.
Thus, this particular group of marines can only be fully integrated into the Mickey Mouse Club (where the Mickey Mouse
club is symbolic of military ideology) once Joker himself is destroyed. It now becomes clear that, far from being a film about
a hero or one character, the central character in “Full Metal Jacket” is really the “marine group”,
of which, Joker is merely representative of the group’s self awareness and intellect.
As French philosopher Giles
Deleuze states, “Kubrick’s films portray the world as a brain fated to malfunction from both external and internal
causes”. Deleuze discusses Kubrick in the second volume of “Cinema” where he divides modern cinema into
2 camps, the cinema of the body and the cinema of the brain. Full Metal Jacket, he concludes, is less about Joker’s
personal evolution, than the regression of Joker so that the marine-hive, as a single entity, may further evolve.
Author Bill Krohn expands on
this, saying: “Kubrick told Newsweek that he wanted to “explode the narrative
structure of film” and in Full Metal Jacket the first casualty of this explosion is the conventional notion of a character.
For Full Metal Jacket is a film without a hero; its sole protagonist is a group-mind whose formation is shown in the boot
camp scenes, most of which portray the process of indoctrination, with little reference to combat training per se.”
Krohn goes on to say: “Then, in the second section, we follow scattered pieces of the group-mind as they are set adrift in a world
where scene follows scene with no apparent dramatic or thematic necessity, so that even Joker, the protagonist, whose acts
and motives were starkly delineated by the constricting circumstances of boot camp, seems to withdraw from us, becoming a
cipher as the film unfolds”
So from this point onwards, it becomes helpful to view “Full Metal Jacket” as a film in which the central
character is the entire “marine hive” of which the “individual marines” are merely representative
of the different aspects of this group’s personality.
In other words, the central character of “Full Metal Jacket” is the MARINE GROUP and the mouthpiece of
this group’s intellect is Joker. Note that the film begins and ends with groups of men. When watching the film, what
we’re really doing is watching a brain process the military’s indoctrination.
ACT 1: The brain is faced with indoctrination and is forced to question’s its identity. Is this you or is this
still me? Though the mind is forced to kill its Father and its Child, it retains a sense of personal Self by protecting its
intellect and femininity.
ACT 2: The brain is thrown into Vietnam, where it tries to reconcile its training in such a chaotic environment. The
mind becomes confused and wayward. It’s been trained to kill and fuck the Feminine, but cannot do so until it locates
Cowboy, where the notion of “Cowboys” is symbolic of its warrior nature.
ACT 3: The brain finds Cowboy. It grows focussed. When Cowboy is killed it grows vengeful. It steps forward and takes
on the role of warrior. It has not sacrificed its intellect, it has not killed off its Female Self, rather it has learnt how
to balance or reconcile these different archetypes. That is, the intellect (Joker) has also become the Cowboy and the Mother.
The killer, the mind, the woman and the child, are all one. The perfect killer is formed. Far from being a one-dimensional
killing machine, the perfect “marine” is a multi-faceted individual who retains his personal identity and YET
is still able to be a dutiful slave or whore to military ideology.
So Pyle does not spare Joker, rather, only Joker has managed to survive the military’s indoctrination process.
IE- the intellect has survived boot camp, but the child appears to have not.
53. Joker and Hartman (Mother and Father) confront Pyle in the Head. “What is this Mickey Mouse shit?”
Hartman asks Joker. “Why aren’t you stomping Private Pyle’s guts out?”
But Joker is transfixed with fear. At this stage in the film, the intellect is still cowardly.
54. Prior to his suicide, Pyle mimics Hartman and speaks the title of the film: “Seven six two millimetre. Full
metal jacket.” A full metal jacket bullet does not explode upon impact; instead it penetrates deep into the target.
This bullet is normally used for target shooting, one of the few skills that Pyle excels at. So the bullet that causes Pyle’s
death is also the vehicle through which he finally begins to succeed in the military. Recognising this irony, author Mario
Falsetto says: “The depth of penetration characteristic of the full metal jacket bullet is symbolic of the depth to
which the ideology of the Marine Corps has penetrated Pyle.”
Because Pyle assimilates Hartman’s teachings so rapidly, without negotiating a space for his own individuality,
his identity as a Marine is flawed. His mimicry of Hartman, prior to his suicide, makes this failure apparent. Pyle is unable
to separate his own identity from the one dictated to him by his drill instructor.
55. Pyle commits suicide. He shoots Hartman in the heart and himself in the head. Throughout the film, Kubrick hits us with continuous “hearts” and “minds” references.
To win control of the marine, you have to win the battle of the heart (compassion) and the battle of the mind (intellect).
Later in the film, Joker will wear a peace button on his heart and the words “born to kill” on his head.
In the first act, the winning of hearts and minds is symbolised by hard-hearted Hartman getting shot in the heart, followed
by Pyle sitting down on his pile and shooting himself in the head in the Head.
final act, the winning of hearts and minds is symbolised by Rafterman shooting the sniper in the heart and Joker shooting
her in the head. When the heart and mind are destroyed, you have total self-destruction. A symbolic suicide or killing of
of this destruction comes the birth of a new identity. As we will see, the two reporters in the group (Rafterman and Joker)
will then be reborn and assimilated into the marine hive. With this total conversion, the group now becomes part of the Mickey
57. Pyle is dead. While Joker manages to distance himself from the military’s indoctrination, Pyle suffers from
an over-identification with this brutal ideology. Though the military has finally broken Pyle down and removed all infantile
and feminine qualities, his masculinized training was so complete that he was "reborn" as a technological tool, a weapon,
where all his feminine qualities were externalized onto his gun. Pyle's gun is "smooth" and "beautiful", every action "slick"
and "sliding". He fetishizes his weapon because, unlike the other marines, he is still a child. He cannot distinguish between
fighting and fun or between sex and gun.
Jack Torrance in "The Shining", Pyle was never "mad" to begin with. He was never a "section eight". He was simply "doing his
duty" - progressing along the dehumanising arc of becoming an efficient killer. But Pyle had the emotional sensibility of
a child, leading to his explosive ejaculation in the Head. By skull fucking his weapon, Pyle hoped to receive total identification
with his gun. But such identification is a self-destructive act, as to give one’s self totally to ideology is to remove
all sense of individuality. The individual self is replaced completely with the marine self. This is a suicidal act. The military
does not want this. They do not want one-dimensional robots.
|THE MALE ENEMY: CHILD/WOMAN
FUN FACT: "For 2 weeks, Full Metal Jacket was shot in black and white with grainy 16mm
film stock. Kubrick eventually changed his mind and opted for color."
|"You will not laugh, you will not cry!"
|Like Alex in ACO, Hartman directly addresses the audience, preparing them for the ordeal...
|How can you shoot WOMEN and CHILDREN?
SUMMARY OF ACT ONE
"In Vietnam it was the culture of capitalism which played the nomadic role. The American soldier
was the nomad, and not so much because he wanted to be, but because that is what the technology demanded of him. It is this
nomadic movement, this production of the plateau disarticulated from all others that capitalist industry made possible in
the skies of Vietnamm, a boundless cushion experienced as if without limits and which produced the sense of a landscape at
every point accessible, penetrable, and nonrestricted." - Herman Rapaport
Jung theorised that all human beings have a subconscious male and female (anima and animus) component which should
be developed. In terms of males, the entire process of unconscious anima development is about the subject opening up to emotionality, and in that way a
broader “spirituality”, by creating a new consciousness that includes intuitive processes, creativity, imagination,
and sensitivity towards himself and others.
Kubrick’s film, however, postulates the opposite. Instead of growth, it deals with killing
the anima by creating a false enemy within the Self. Once this enemy is killed, the Self is compromised, freeing the marine
to be used and abused by those in power.
So Kubrick suggests that to become "born again hard" the male needs to defeat two things:
1. The Infantile Self (Pyle)
2. The Feminine Other (woman/sniper).
Firstly, for the “self” to be won, all ambiguity must be shut down. You must become a one-dimensional
identity, completely rejecting the Feminine and the Infantile ("How can you shoot women and children?").
Throughout this forty-minute period the marines are portrayed as infants and school children. They learn to tie their
shoes, learn to make their beds, learn to walk, pee, run, climb etc.
But with his baby-fat and his naive innocence, Pyle is different. Kubrick portrays him to be younger than the rest.
He’s a wide-eyed baby, twice shown sucking on his thumb, often sitting and staring like a child and in one scene, even
waddling with his pants down. The only thing holding this unit down and preventing them from progressing is their attachment
to their childish nature, symbolised by Pyle.
Angered by their inability to grow further, the marines pin Pyle against his bed and proceed to beat him with bars
of soap. They want payback for all the pain he has inflicted upon them. They want to wash his childish nature away
(“Are you going to die on me Private Pyle? Do it! Do it now!”).
As a result, Pyle slowly malfunctions. His childlike immaturity is still there, but now it is coupled with pure rage
and hyper-masculinity. He is reborn a sociopath. Of course only Mother (Joker) notices this. During a scene where both Joker
and Cowboy mop the bathroom, Joker informs Cowboy of Pyle's growing insanity, but they quickly brush the topic aside and talk
Ignored by his fellow recruits, Pyle gradually becomes a killing machine. He remembers his commands, is a crack shot
on the sniper range, and can assemble his gun faster than any other recruit.
The final Paris Island sequence takes place in the bathroom. Here Pyle literally malfunctions in the Head. Sgt Hartman
confronts him and bellows: "What is your major malfunction numb nuts? Didn't mommy and daddy give you enough attention as
As we’ve seen, this line itself is symbolic. Mommy and Daddy (Joker and Hartman), who stand side by side like
a couple, did not give Pyle enough attention when he was a child. As a result, he has malfunctioned in the Head. While
the other marines can separate fighting and fun, love and sex, gun and penis, Pyle receives complete identification with
his gun. In giving himself totally to military ideology, Pyle fails to negotiate a space for his own individuality.
Pyle eventually kills Sgt Hartman before committing suicide himself. With this simultaneous loss of both Hartman (father)
and Pyle (child), the Marine unit is now free to evolve into adolescence.
PYLE HAS LEFT HIS WORLD OF SHIT
"The standards of manhood promulgated by the military permeate all of society and
are broadcast by all its institutions. By revealing the profound analogies between the making of the marine and the making
of masculinity, Kubrick unmasks the true meaning of patriarchy and its motivations." – Paula Willoquet Maricondi (Masculinity
in the Making)
While Kubrick does liken the
institutions of the military to a maniacal parent or patriarchal “mother green”, he also portrays these institutions
as being part of a larger “world of shit”. As such, the film contains numerous references to shit, dumps, turds,
stains, faeces, waste, flushing, toilets, suppositories, people being “wasted” and headgear being “flushed
As Christopher Sharrett argues
in his article “Full Metal Jacket” (Cineaste, 16 (1987): 64), one of the principal themes of the film is "the
fate of men at the hands of other men." Developing this theme even further, Michael Pursell also contends in “Full Metal
Jacket: The Unravelling of Patriarchy” (Literature/Film Quarterly 16 (1988): 221) that to be in a "world of shit" is
not merely to be in a war, but to be in a "strictly man-made world". Thus, one of the reasons that Kubrick chose to set the
Vietnam portion of Full Metal Jacket in the dilapidated city of Hue, was in order to illustrate that war is always manufactured.
The wild, untamed, "naturalistic" jungle settings of nearly all other Vietnam movies serve only to mask the real nature of
war. Far from being a descent into the jungle of human nature, Kubrick emphasizes the extent to which war is a supremely artificial,
Kubrick also demonstrates how
the military appropriates whatever else is necessary from the wider culture, in order to achieve its purposes. The film thus
links the military to all of society’s major institutions, including the following:
1. Religion: Virgin Mary, Chaplin
Charlie, prayers to rifles, group chants, sacrificial rituals, Pyle being "reborn" masculine on Christmas Day so "you can
give your heart to Jesus but your ass belongs to the Corps”. Indeed, like the military, religion is a coercive organization
which creates “soldiers of God” by appealing to sacrifice, duty and mythology. Hartman’s line- “Marines die, that’s what we’re here for. But the Marine Corp lives on. That
means you live on!”- makes it clear that the marines are conditioned to accept their jobs based on the false promise
of eternal life. Though they don’t get a Christian heaven, they are given medals and promises of eternal remembrance,
destined to “never be forgotten”.
2. Sexuality: the most significant
sub-theme, from the sexual fetishisation of the marines' rifles to the marines' "clarified rejection" of all feminine cultural
constructs in order to become more "masculine", which becomes Joker's suicidal undoing when he shoots the masculinized female
3. The media: cinematic and
TV representations of war and the idealised western masculine hero.
Imperialism: Kubrick’s first image of Vietnam is one of signs, billboards, product placements and advertisements. American
movie posters litter the ruins, advertising John Wayne flicks, the genocidal slaughter of Indians, Red Rivers, Mad Giang posters
and Mickey Mouse.
5. Sports: “Jump on the team
for the big win”, “batting orders”, “calling the plays”, “Lt Touchdown”, “hard
balls”, “golf balls”, “eight ball”, references to “football”, “basketball”,
“billiards”, “played a little ball for Notre Dame”. War portrayed as a game, a rites of passage, a journey into manhood, the ultimate form of macho posturing and an
extension of traditional masculinization processes, all of which are involved in creating or upholding traditional gender
By linking all these ancillary
institutions to the military, Kubrick suggests that the G-rated Mickey Mouse culture cannot exist without the darker processes
of the brutalisation of the feminine. Once your mind has been colonised with a one-dimensional identity, which denies and
repudiates ambiguities, it is easy to pulverise the X-rated culture while embracing the G-rated one.
The above cultural, gendered
identity dynamics serve to further propel the film's scope into a larger, greater, more comprehensive commentary on American
imperialism. Here, war is seen to be the "logical" conclusion of an elaborate patriarchal process that starts with the Mickey
Mouse Club, the boy scouts, the high school football team, boot camp…anything that aims to construct masculinity. Thus,
Colonisation, of which war and corporate multinational capitalism are just two expressions, involves two stages:
1. Training (The
colonisation of the mind/psyche)
Of which war is the “logical”
conclusion of a complex web of patriarchal processes which start from infancy (Mickey Mouse Club) and progress outwards into
the larger society.
2. Combat (Colonisation of territory/geography/other cultures)
War and Boot Camp are intrinsically
bound up with the rest of American culture. The preservation of the "frontier myth" (hence all of the John Wayne/Cowboy and
Indian references in the film), the need for America to always require a frontier, from the Wild West to Nicaragua, from Cuba
to Chile, from Korea and Angola to Cambodia and Viet Nam, from Israel to Kuwait and Iraq, is intrinsic to the preservation
of a recognizable national identity and the perpetuation of American patriarchy. Without an ever-present frontier the entire
apparatus of both the military-industrial complex and the imperatives of corporate capitalism are called into question.
As such, the very wording of
the Mickey Mouse Club anthem...
"Boys and girls from far and near you’re as welcome as can be!"
"We play fair and we work hard and we`re in harmony!"
"Who is marching coast to coast and far across the sea?"
"Come along and sing this song and join our family!"
"Who's the leader of this Club that's made for you and me?"
...draws our attention once more to a diverse
but ultimately interconnected range of structural and social processes with which the film has been concerned. The "Club"
is not just the Marine Corp. Rather, getting with "the programme" requires the participation of all members of society, both
male and female. The club has a very specific ideology to perpetuate in which all of America is obliged to actively participate.
SCATOLOGY IN KUBRICK’S FULL METAL JACKET
Full Metal Jacket is awash with scatological references. From the very beginning, the dialogue is sepia-stained; almost
immediately, Hartman characterises the recruit's mouths as "filthy sewers", and proceeds to assault the grunts with a colourful
flood of gastroenterological invective. The soldiers themselves seem obsessed with the anus and its faecal cargo. The
number of repetitions of the words "shit", "ass" and "asshole" are disproportionately high, even by the salty standards of
the modern war film.
Kubrick employs this hyper-stylised language as a scalpel to dissect the psychopathology underlying the US involvement
in the Vietnam War. Satirising America's phobic horror of 'international communism', Kubrick likens the military machine to
a maniacal parent fastidiously potty-training his timid children, in the process paradoxically inculcating an unhealthy coprophiliacal
This pathology finds its apotheosis in Sergeant Hartman. For him, shit represents everything that is weak and contemptible
in man. Shit is 'slimy' (his favourite pejorative), soft, unorganised and repulsive. He associates the anal canal with degradation
and homosexual plunder. His fanatical mission is to create "indestructible men" whose asses are "squared away", who are "born-again
hard" and who shoot "straight and true". Prior to this military rebirth, however, all men are mud. He describes them variously
as "grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit", "brown stains on the mattress", "turds", "slimy fuckin' walrus-looking pieces of
shit", and so on. He delights in equating the men's physical frailties with excrement ("Five foot nine? I didn't know
they stacked shit that high!"), or the anus ("Your ass looks like about a 150 pounds of chewed bubblegum, Private Pyle!").
Hartman is filled with hysterical loathing for dirt and disorder. His fear is fuelled by the certain knowledge that
we can never escape: however anally retentive we are about controlling our external environment, our guts will always be filled
with shit and filth. For him the ultimate assault would be to "unscrew your head and shit down your neck!" He is obsessed
with the bowels and their evacuation. For him, a clean mind and a clean toilet are synonymous; both are tools to flush the
tide of impurity from our bodies. "I want you two turds to clean the Head", he barks at Joker and Cowboy. "I want that Head
so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in and take a dump". (This linguistic confusion
between head and anus is a constant throughout Full Metal Jacket: see a later sequence in which a Strangelovian colonel declares,
"You'd better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you", and Animal Mother's exhortation
to "flush out your headgear, new guy")
Hartman praises Joker for his "guts"; ie his ability to process excrement and expel it. After the soldiers have received
their training, Joker remarks that they are ready to "eat their own guts", the ultimate short-circuiting of the oral/gastrointestinal
cycle. Hartman's idea of heaven is to "PT" the men to the point where that cycle is actually reversed: their "assholes
are sucking buttermilk".
The entire 'boot camp' sequence is presented as a grotesque parody of childhood toilet training, with a monstrous
disciplinarian brutally 're-educating' the quavering troops. Along with hair and identity, the soldiers metaphorically lose
their freedom to excrete. "I've got your name, I've got your ass!", Hartman declares. "Your ass belongs to the Corps!"
Hartman treats the men like infants, reinforcing the parody. When Pyle fails to perform, he is forced to waddle behind
the others, pants round ankles and thumb in mouth. On Christmas day, Hartman makes the privates sing a chorus of "Happy Birthday",
and informs them of an upcoming "magic show", an entertainment that seems better suited to a child's party than an army barracks.
While most of the men are able to submit to this humiliating re-education, Private Pyle (his 'name' also a haemorrhoidal
pun) has neither the physical nor the emotional reserves to survive. He is Hartman's worst nightmare: undisciplined and uneducable,
a globular jelly-donut reminder of man's reliance on food (which, for Hartman, is merely pre-digested shit). Pyle is the very
antithesis of the military ideal, for he can never be trained to efficiently process and eliminate waste.
As the military re-education takes hold of the men's minds, they lose their compassion for Pyle. Kubrick washes the
screen in sombre, antiseptic blues for the sequence in which the men punish Pyle for his 'disobedience' by symbolically flagellating
him with clean soap and towels.
Pyle's subsequent descent into madness is swift; he begins sexualising his rifle. Its "clean, oiled" action a
gastro-intestinal surrogate for his own anal failings. In his final transcendent moments in Hartman's "head" (literally "a
world of shit"), Pyle ironically assumes the very role of "minister of death" that Hartman fetishizes. A malfunctioning machine,
Pyle nevertheless perfectly harnesses his "killer instincts" - he's a deranged, amoral Oswald firing unerringly from the "book
suppository building" - before blowing his brains out in a diarrhoeic spray against the Corps' pristine blue tinted toilet
This prologue clarifies the US mission in Vietnam. In the sanitized language of Stars and Stripes magazine, they are
there not to 'Search and Destroy" but to "Sweep and Clear". They’ve been psychologically cleansed for the literal purpose
of cleaning up shit. Each soldier is a trained coprophage, ready to "take a bite" of the "huge shit sandwich", process the
contents without flinching and flush the resultant excreta down the toilet. The grunts yearn to "get out into the Shit" so
they can "waste" gooks. They are able to mine their own faeces for "peanuts" and "Tiffany cufflinks". They stoically submit
to being shat on by their superiors and their South Vietnamese 'allies'.
Much of the action in the latter half of the movie takes place near the sweet smelling "Perfume River", a name that
has obvious ironic connotations given Kubrick's stercoraceous theme. The soldiers all do John Wayne impressions, "phoney-tough
and crazy-brave" posturing that imitates Gunnery Sergeant Hartman's feculent ranting. (For example, Animal Mother offers to
"tear [Joker] a new asshole" when he suspects he's combat-shy.)
In the marine’s warped environment, sexual intercourse itself is linked with the anus. Women are systematically
associated with excrement ("the best part of you ran down the crack of your mama's ass", "your mama will beat the shit
out of me", "the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump") and putrefaction ("Mary-Jane Rotten-Crotch").
Hartman himself makes numerous references to anal sex, constantly reminding his boys that “the rifle” is the only
“pussy” they will get.
Coprophilia is often characterised by gratification resulting from ingesting faeces or other waste, and Full Metal
Jacket contains many such references: "Eat shit and die" (summing up the marine’s life cycle), "Joker's so tough he'd
eat the boogers out of a dead man's nose", "It's a huge shit sandwich and we're all gonna have to take a bite", "Only after
you eat the peanuts out of my shit."
What’s more, coprophiliacs often derive gratification from being shat on: "I will unscrew your head and
shit down your neck!", "they shit all over us every chance they get", "get your head and your ass wired together or I will
take a giant shit on you", “I want to get out into the shit”, “you’re my favourite turd”, “don’t
Throughout the film Kubrick also likens coprophiliacal inclinations to American foreign policy (ie cold-war xenophobic
isolationism mixing uneasily with the urge to meddle) and a pathology at the heart of its war-machine (ie a conflicted revulsion-attraction
gestalt cantering around killing/death).
ACT TWO: VIETNAM
"Capitalism decodes and deterritorializes
with all its might." - Gilles Deleuze
films always begin with a self-contained primer scene. These scenes brief the audience on the themes that will be explored
throughout the film that follows. Because the second act of Full Metal Jacket is essentially another film with another set
of themes, Kubrick chooses to highlight this with another self-contained primer sequence.
THE SECOND PRIMER SCENE
Pyle’s malfunction, Kubrick fades to Vietnam. Rather than a jungle, we’re thrust into a land of billboards and
advertisements. The two most prominent signs sell “Hynos toothpaste” and “photocopying”. As Nancy
Sinatra’s “these boots are made for walking” warbles on the soundtrack, a Vietnamese hooker walks into view.
We watch her from behind as she ambles up to Joker and Rafterman, sitting alongside a chaotic roundabout. “You got a
girlfriend in Vietnam?” she asks. “Not just this minute,” Joker replies. After some bartering, a Vietnamese
pickpocket steals Rafterman’s camera. The thief does a little Bruce Lee routine to scare off Joker, but Joker simply
mimics the man with a little karate routine of his own. The pickpocket then hops onto a motorcycle and disappears into the
this sequence we're shown several important things:
re-introduction of the feminine (whore)
re-growth of Joker’s hair
rigid, military camera symbolically stolen
actors mimicking or ironically referencing Hollywood "macho" stereotypes
foreshadows sniper showdown
replacing guns with true sex objects (Me so horney!)
replacing camera with gun
Photocopy sign symbolising self-referential nature of this act
Hynos Toothpaste billboards
first point is that, in the training environment, removing all infantile and feminine traces results in the perfect killing
machine. Too perfect, in some respects. But when this conditioned marine reaches a wayward environment like Vietnam, the system
collapses. The marine is no longer a masculinized killing machine because his base human instincts resurface. His hair re-grows
and he seeks contact with the only collapsed, one-dimensional version of femininity he can relate to.
first lines in Act 2's primer scene are thus symbolically important:
"You got a girlfriend in Vietnam?"
"Not just this minute."
the conditioned soldier is placed in a real combat environment, he gradually reverts. He seeks not intimacy with his gun,
but real pussy. The sudden introduction of the feminine, personifies this.
notion of a “stolen camera” is symbolic of the film’s sudden shift in tone. Kubrick’s precise military
camera of the first act is stolen and replaced with something more wayward and loose. The sterile corridors of Paris Island
have been replaced by the messy confusion of circular traffic. This highlights the giant shift in the marine’s psychology.
They’re bombarded with stimuli and find the sudden cultural change to be disorienting. Similarly, while the first act
is primarily filled with corridor shots (forward/backward motion), the second act is filled with horizontal shots (left/right
motion). The marines must teach themselves how to navigate this new environment.
importantly, the removal of the camera teaches us that this act will be about Joker losing his camera and acquiring his gun.
In the first act, Joker becomes a reporter rather than a killer. He shoots pictures rather than people. As such, Joker chooses
the camera over Hartman’s rifle. But by showing us a camera being stolen, Kubrick informs us that Vietnam will be about
Joker losing his camera, picking up his gun and finally developing a war face. Simply put, Joker learns to reconcile the duality
of being both a killer and reporter.
notion of Joker mimicking Bruce Lee (the John Wayne of Asia) and pretending to be a macho karate star will continue over the
next thirty five minuets. Joker pretends to be a “tough guy” by putting on a false persona. This is his full metal
jacket, a protective suit which he wears, allowing him to maintain his identity whilst pretending to be part of the group.
Though Joker recognises the artificiality of this “jacket”, the other marines do not. They readily assume their
false, one-dimensional cultural macho-identities.
all the “photocopy” signs, which let us know that Kubrick’s “war in Vietnam” will be treated
as just another “Vietnam the movie”. It’s a self-reflexive copy of a copy. The military machine has given
these men cultural identities not far removed from the one-dimensional macho-characterizations of war cinema. Thus, Kubrick
doesn’t give us real characters. He gives us abstractions. Self-aware actors trapped in pre-constructed roles. Look
at their macho posturing, their stupid notions of manhood (“I want to get out into the shit!”), they can’t
talk to one another without puffing out their chests, putting on stale John Wayne accents and spitting out some clichéd characteristic
of macho adolescence. They look at the camera, address the audience and grin mischievously. At this stage, their existence
as a military product is as artificial as a film cast.
“Hynos toothpaste sign”, which features a giant smiling head, links back to all the acts of “cleaning”
and “flushing” which took place in Paris Island. As Hartman says, to be born again hard, a marine’s head
must be clean. But here in Vietnam, the head is literally populated with spinning cars. It’s confused, fragmented and
chaotic. This confusion, however, does not last. Later in the film, the “Hynos toothpaste Head” will reappear
when Joker first ventures into combat. During this scene, the visual composition is such that the marine squad seems to be
marching directly into the giant “Hynos Head”. Significantly, it is from this point onwards that Joker picks up
his gun and takes his first steps toward embracing combat. In marching into the “Hynos head” and scrubbing it
clean, Joker symbolically begins the process of cleaning his own head.
interesting aspect of this scene is the song, “These boots are made for walking”. This odd song sets the tone
for the entire second act. We’re still reeling from the shock of Pyle’s suicide, when we’re greeted by the
cheery voice of Nancy Sinatra. The contrast is unsettling. But of course the abruptness of this transition mirrors the marines’
state of psychological and cultural dislocation.
song functions on other levels. Upon first listening, it seems inappropriate as an introduction to Vietnam; temporally distinct
and culturally alien. But this is precisely the point. The Americans have come to Vietnam to impose their foreign value system
upon it, to “sweep and clear” the faecal detritus of Communism from the streets in order to replace it with movie
posters, billboards and product advertisements. It (and other songs in the film) represents a mythic 50’s idyll where
Mickey Mouse is president and John Wayne is sheriff.
subjective tracking shot of the Vietnamese prostitute, sauntering down the road, visually literalises the lyrics. We are actually
watching her “boots awalking” as she plies her wares. Superimposed on this scene, Sinatra’s lyrics about
simple infidelity take on dark new meanings. The whole song becomes a metaphor for the uneasy, mutually contemptuous relationship
of parasitic need which existed between the South Vietnamese and their US ‘benefactors’.
“You keep saying you’ve got something for me,
Something called Love, but confess”
Kubrick simultaneously jabs at the confusion between love and sex and on another level, hints that the US force in Vietnam
was motivated less by philanthropy than by self interest
"You've been a-messin' where you shouldn’t
have been messin'"
This is a pretty succinct description of the entire US involvement in Vietnam. Describing American
actions as "messing" humorously inverts their intention to clean up and restore order, and makes a mockery of the philosophy
so vigorously espoused by Sergeant Hartman and the Marine Corps.
"One of these days these boots are gonna
walk all over you"
In other words, the ill-treated dog may one day bite the hand that reluctantly feeds it. $10
may buy "every-thin you want" in the short-term, but the price is outright hostility. The theft of Rafterman's camera graphically
illustrates this theme. He sanctimoniously declares later: "We're supposed to be helping them, and they shit all over us every
chance they get." But as the song demonstrates with brilliant economy, the Americans aren't interested in helping the Vietnamese;
they're interested in fucking them.
"You keep playing where you shouldn't be
And you keep thinking you'll never get burned...
But I've just found a brand new pack of matches...
And what he knows you ain't had time to learn"
The pack of matches is the brewing Vietnamese discontent at American meddling. The last line
refers to the destructive potential of that spirit, the extent of which the philandering American troops "ain't had time to
“These boots are made for walking,
and that's just what they'll do,
one of these days these boots are gonna walk
all over you.”
This very pro-feminist line foreshadows the final sniper showdown. The debased female Other
fights back with a vengeance. The very boots that whore themselves out to the Marines, trample all over them in the final
song thus acts as a feminist counterpoint to both Hartman’s hyper-masculinized training and the introductory “Hello
Vietnam” song. While Hartman conditions his men to “kill kill kill” the Feminine Other, here we learn that
the Female Other does not exist and that young sniper is every bit as capable of becoming a hard-hearted soldier.
while the first act portrayed the marines as children, learning to pee and tie their shoes, the second act will portray their
growth into adolescence. Like budding young men, the marines are now obsessed with sex, haggling over whores and looking for
an easy fuck. During this period Kubrick thus awakens their sexuality. It’s here that the paradoxical duality of female
identities are revealed: the female prostitute and female soldier- the only collapsed down and one-dimensional versions of
femininity that the masculinized soldier can relate to.
So though this primer
scene is initially confusing, it serves to briefly spell out the themes and signifiers that Kubrick will explore throughout
the next hour.
SCENE BY SCENE BREAKDOWN CONTINUTED
"Because constructions of masculinity and femininity are being used in American mass culture to repress awareness
of other forms of patriarchal dominance, it is methodologically important to maintain a distinction between patriarchy and
masculinity. Masculinity is the primary mechanism for the articulation, institutionalization, and maintenance of the gendered
system on which patriarchy is based ... It is itself constructed and manipulated by interests other than those defined by
gender." - Susan Jeffords
Joker stands above a picture of Jesus. Though the film links “religious indoctrination” to “military indoctrination”,
Joker is still outside the military and yet to be fully converted.
Each act contains references to “praying”. In the first act, the marines pray to their rifles (“You are
minister’s of death, praying for war!”). In the second act, Joker and the hooker stand above a picture of Jesus
praying. In the third act, the sniper prays for the marines to kill her.
picture of Jesus has a greater significance, which will be explained later.
Da Nang Base. Joker and Rafterman walk toward their bunker. Rafterman tells Joker that he wishes to “go out into the
shit” and “get some trigger time”. Though Rafterman is itching for combat, Joker is comfortable behind friendly
lines. Rafterman complains that a "highschool girl" could do his job. Later, a girl of "highschool" age will slaughter his
During their “trigger time” conversation, a group of soldiers can be seen in the background playing basketball.
Later, when Payback mentions “the thousand yard stare”, another marine mentions “rape” and “basketball”.
Kubrick will link these semiotic clues later.
Rafterman complains that the Vietnamese treat the American’s with scorn despite their helpful intentions. Joker smiles
at his friend’s nativity: “You’re thinking too hard, Rafterman. It’s just business.”
Joker and Rafterman attend a briefing by Lieutenant Lockhart. Lockhart is the symbolic opposite of Hartman. Like Joker, his
“hard heart” is literally “locked”. He chooses to remain safely “in the rear with the gear”.
The briefing room features several Mickey Mouse toys. Each act thus includes a reference to Mickey Mouse.
“What is this Mickey Mouse shit!?”
Mickey Mouse toys
Mickey Mouse Club
Joker informs Lockhart about a possible attack during the Tet Ceasefire. Lockhart dismisses Joker’s hunches as being
fanciful. As the briefing continues, the marines discuss trivial news. Reports are fabricated, truth is distorted and terminology
is discussed, all with the intention of falsifying or sanitising the war.
the sign behind the marines. It reads: “First to go, last to know. We defend to the death your right to be misinformed”.
66. Lockhart tells Joker that they run 2 basic stories: “Grunts
who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants- winning of hearts and minds. And combat action that results
in a kill- Winning the War.”
Here Kubrick links the notion of “toothbrushes” and
“deodorant” with “hearts and minds”. Later, when the marines siege a ruined city, they sweep and clear
a building that features a large Hynos toothpaste poster. Similarly, during the sniper confrontation, toothpaste and deodorant
advertisements litter the walls behind the marines.
Toothbrushes and deodorant are two products which “clean”
and “sanitize” the human body. Full Metal Jacket sees war as a form of physical, geographic and ideological purification.
The marine must be psychologically cleaned out before he can sweep and clear “the shit” for the implementation
of a more sexy, lean and beautiful ideology.
67. Joker, Rafterman, Payback and the other marines are in their
bunks. Kubrick once again uses props to highlight character traits. Joker is writing in a notebook whilst Payback reads a
pornographic magazine. Joker’s bed is bracketed by empty cups and books, whilst Payback’s bed is bracketed by
beer kegs, pornography and cassettes.
Significantly, Payback is the only marine smoking and reading porn.
The others read novels or polish their rifles. Smoking, smoke grenades and Cotab cigarette posters will have greater significance
as the film progresses.
68. While talking to the other marines, Joker once again puts on
his John Wayne persona. He puffs out his chest and pretends to be tough. Payback sees through him, though, and mocks Joker’s
69. Payback tells the marines about the “thousand yard stare”
and then informs Rafterman that he too will one day have it.
70. Stork mentions “rape” and “basketball”
immediately after hearing about the “thousand yard stare”. Murder makes him hard. This echoes an earlier juxtaposition
in which Cowboy and Joker had “hard ons” whilst thinking about Pyle and his rifle. We see the marine persona developing
here. Erections have been replaced with rape. The marines want to actualise their rifle fucking fantasies.
NOTE: Stork mentions "five black dudes raping a white chick". Later, the film will end with 5 dudes (one soldier will
mysteriously disappear) standing over a "raped" chick (the female sniper) who, in a deleted scene, then has her head cut off
with a cutlass and played with like a basketball by Animal Mother.
Also notice the subtle "dualism" or "mirroring" echoes in the film. The "black dudes" and "white chick" later become
"white dudes" and a "yellow chick". Then there's the fact that Stork, a mythical bird who "brings babies" is talking about
rape. The film is filled with these direct contrasts (even its marketing tagline refers to "blowing" and "sucking", opposed
actions which also have sexual connotations).
71. NVA troops attack the base. Seconds earlier, the song “Chapel of Love” played on the soundtrack. Full
Metal Jacket contains numerous references to rituals of birth, growth and religion. The film treats war as a young man’s
ritualistic rites of passage, in which the military attempts to instil a new religion (by the subverting of sexual energy
and channelling it into warfare). In this new religion, Marines are holders of a sacred position. They’re “Ministers
of death, praying for war.”
During the “Chapel of Love” scene, the marines run
toward combat, while the following lyrics play:
“Goin' to the chapel
And we're gonna get ma-a-arried
Goin' to the chapel
And we're gonna get ma-a-arried
Gee, I really love you
And we're gonna get ma-a-arried
Goin' to the chapel of love”
“The Chapel of Love” is combat itself. In this scene,
Joker and Rafterman are “going to the chapel”, a place where the two reporters shall finally be married to the
guns they so lovingly named in the first act. As Hartman said in boot camp: “You will be married to this piece, this
weapon of iron and wood, and you will be faithful!”
Joker and Rafterman thus unwillingly take part in another stage
of the military’s indoctrination process. Before this scene, Joker is a reporter, comfortable behind enemy lines. In
the very next scene he’s happy to trade his camera for a gun and “go into the shit."
72. “Chapel of Love” is another moment in a long line
of religious references found throughout the film:
"Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?"
“You will be born again hard!”
“God has a hard on for Marines.”
“We keep Heaven packed with fresh souls!"
"Marines die, that's what we're here for. The Marine Corp lives
on. That means you live on!"
“Chapel of love.”
"I Am Become Death" (religious text quote).
"She's praying." (the sniper)
"Today is Christmas! There will be a magic show at 09:30!”
(a Kubrick joke, linking Christianity to silly magic tricks)
“Chapel of Love” has some further ironies in that it
counterpoints the Vietnamese “pagan” cease-fire festivities with a song about a Christian ceremony. The fact that
the first combat Kubrick shows us is the Tet Offensive, is also another dualism reference (ie- countrywide war during a nationally
73. Joker runs towards combat. He is about to be married to his
M14. He sets himself up in a pillbox, grabs a machine gun and waits for the enemy. “I ain’t ready for this shit,”
Joker growls nervously. It is at this moment, when first faced with the possibility of murder, that we first see the “peace
button” pinned to Joker’s soft heart.
74. The enemy attacks and Joker fires. But the enemy is distant,
faceless, well beyond the thousand-yard stare. Though Joker has relished his brief taste of combat, he is not fully converted.
75. Unlike most war films, Kubrick shoots combat with a sense of
dry detachment. His camera is static, distant and very un-involving. The audience gets no sense of thrill or euphoria. We
simply watch little Vietnamese men running to their deaths. There is no danger, no pleasure, no aestheticization of combat,
none of the orgasmic spectacle that we’ve come to expect from war films. Kubrick seems morally opposed to glorifying
violence. As the second act progresses, Kubrick will short-circuit our near pornographic lust for decontextualized violence
by subverting the testosterone fuelled conventions of most war films.
76. We’re back in Lockhart’s briefing room. The camera
circles the room until Joker’s “Born to Kill” helmet is revealed on the table. In front of the helmet lies
Joker’s Polaroid camera. Behind the helmet lies a pile of guns and ammunition.
CameraàBorn to KillàGun
Kubrick’s camera circles further until a little yellow fan
blocks the words “Born to Kill”. Joker has tasted combat, but, as Rafterman articulates at the end of the film,
his head is blocked until the “shit hits the fan” and he “turns to the rifle”.
77. Lockhart orders Joker to “go out into the shit”.
Joker grins and accepts the offer.
78. Joker and Rafterman take a ride in a helicopter. What’s
odd about this sequence is that it begins with a shot of a helicopter’s shadow skimming across the landscape (right
to left). Kubrick then cuts to a reverse shot of a completely different helicopter (left to right). He then cuts to a forward
shot of the terrain rolling under us.
Considering the fact that Full Metal Jacket is about Jung’s
Shadow, it seems ironic that Kubrick, for the fourth time in his filmography, would yet again goof up and show the shadow
of the camera crew’s helicopter. Is this a reference to the famous helicopter shadow in The Shining? Is it a genuine
goof? Why not edit the shot a few seconds earlier so that the shadow doesn’t appear? Perhaps Kubrick just doesn’t
care. As he said once in an interview, “realism is a hopelessly ponderous way to proceed.”
Anyway, what’s more interesting is the reverse shot itself.
The second half of Full Metal Jacket is packed with such dual motions. Our heroes are always travelling in one direction,
whilst columns of people, stretchers or vehicles, travel in the opposite direction. These opposing movements are present in
virtually all scenes. Consider the Mickey Mouse Chant, which itself features a crowd of marines suddenly switching directions.
Kubrick breaks the 180 degree rule, but we don’t notice due to the consistent chanting.
This notion of simultaneous dual motions is only abandoned when
the marines are focussed on combat. At this moment, their opposing dualities are reconciled and they fixate on violence.
79. The Huey helicopter has become an important symbol in the iconography
of the Vietnam War. In terms of technology, they’re the one signifier which immediately distinguishes Vietnam War cinema
from the cinema of other conflicts.
Full Metal Jacket, however, uses the Sikorsky UH 34D. While this
is factually accurate (during the Vietnam War, the marines were the last branch of the service to get new equipment and were,
for the most part, still flying the dated UH34 at the time of Tet), audiences were simply not accustomed to seeing anything
other than hordes of Hueys in a Vietnam war movie.
The near-mythical Huey is not the only piece of iconography to
be rejected by Kubrick. He trades the jungles of Oliver Stone’s Platoon for an urban landscape, he trades the psychedelic,
drug induced hell of Apocalypse Now, for a more ordered sense of brutality, and rather than populate his film with rock and
roll tunes, Kubrick goes for a more idiosyncratic soundtrack. The result is a film which contains few of the visual or audio
touchstones of the Vietnam War genre.
80. The helicopter’s door gunner, a psychotic man with a
M60, fires wildly at passing civilians. Joker and Rafterman are disgusted by his actions. Joker’s line, “How can
you shoot WOMEN and CHILDREN?”, articulates the military’s dehumanisation process, which systematically seeks
to remove all traces of the FEMININE and INFANTILE.
As the door gunner shows, the callous eradication of both these
traits results in a one-dimensional killer akin to the malfunctioned Pyle.
81. Kubrick shoots the door gunner sequence with extreme detachment.
Rather than demonise the door gunner, Kubrick seems to keep his distance. The gunner’s last line, “Ain’t
war hell?”, has an ironic ring to it. Most war films portray the American forces as being young men trapped in a hellish
nightmare which they must dutifully endure. But in Full Metal Jacket, the Marines spend boot camp actively praying for hell.
They want to go out into the shit, and when they finally get there, they’re largely insulated from hell, safe in their
helicopters or marching behind their tanks.
82. Joker and Rafterman touchdown and, coincidentally, meet Lieutenant
Touchdown. Joker informs the Lieutenant that he is looking for Cowboy. Touchdown points him in the right direction.
83. Note again the repeated use of dual motion. Even the helicopter
that flies over Joker’s head, as he speaks to the Lieutenant, mimics the earlier helicopter pattern. It travels to the
left, then to the right, and then directly ahead.
This notion of forward motion, despite conflicting dualities (left/right),
is present throughout the film. Joker himself is travelling forward toward a specific fate, despite his attempts to maintain
an awareness of some inner duality.
In the first act, Hartman went to great lengths to stress the differences
between Left and Right. Once in Vietnam, however, Joker’s lefts and rights seem to be conflicted. Only once his left
and his right, his head and his heart, have been symbolically joined (forming a fully wired circle), can he be a fully functioning
84. The film contains numerous references to sports. Marines are
told to “jump on the team for the big win”, they speak of “batting orders” “calling the plays”,
“playing a little ball for Notre Dame”, are told about “hardballs”, “golf balls”, make
jokes about basketball, are named Touchdown and Eightball, and wear football helmets whilst beating one another in boot camp.
The film is thus preoccupied with “ball games”. Before
you can get your balls blown off for your country, you must first master the sports ball. As such, the film treats the military
as an X rated extension of traditional masculinization processes, both of which are involved in creating or upholding traditional
Note: A filmed but omitted scene has Animal Mother cutting off
the sniper’s head and playing ball with it. We thus have another linkage between sport, violence and sex.
85. Touchdown informs Joker that the fighting is getting heavier.
“Outstanding, sir,” Joker grins, “we taking care of business?”
Once again, war is seen to be a purely economic exercise. A business
86. Joker and Rafterman stand before a pit of lime covered corpses.
Lieutenant Cleeves, from Hartford Connecticut, informs Joker that the victims were called in for political re-education and
then shot. For one to be re-educated and made to embrace a new political ideology,
the old ideology must first be eradicated, often by the use of military force. It is here that Joker first mentions “the
Jungian thing”. “Re-educating” and “helping” is ironically contrasted with “murder”
87. Cleeves smiles for Rafterman’s camera. Later, Crazy Earl
will similarly pose for Rafterman in front of a Vietnamese corpse. Both scenes imply that the Marines are likewise killing
in the name of “political re-education”.
88. An elderly Colonel berates Joker. The Colonel is upset that
Joker wears a peace button on his heart and a “born to kill” message on his head. The Colonel wants Joker to wire
his compassion to his aggression, to merge these two dual instincts and get his shit together.
89. Joker and Rafterman amble up to a pagoda. Inside are the Lusthog
squad. Joker is about to wire his shit together.
90. Joker passes through a circular “moon door” and
meets Cowboy. Symbolically, the intellect (Joker) has found the warrior (Cowboy). The intellect and the killer are wired together
and the circle is now complete. From this moment onwards, Kubrick will abandon his opposing dual motions and the marines will
now all flow in the same direction. The narrative itself will now gradually focus on combat rather than aimless wandering.
91. “Here or there, samey same,” Joker says to Cowboy.
At this moment Kubrick cuts to another reverse shot. The implication is that Joker and Cowboy are “samey same”.
This was made clear during boot camp, in which Joker and Cowboy were always side-by-side and were the only marines to wear
Thus, Cowboy is the masculinized, fully indoctrinated version of
Joker. By “finding Cowboy”, the intellect has symbolically “found” its hard heart. It must now venture
out into combat and earn the thousand-yard stare.
92. Joker meets Animal Mother. Pyle and Animal Mother are similar
in build and facial structure. While Cowboy is the fully indoctrinated version of Joker, Animal Mother is the fully indoctrinated
version of Pyle. We thus realise that the Lusthog Squad is really a reflection of the boot camp squad. Snowball becomes Eightball,
Pyle becomes Animal, Joker becomes Cowboy. These are the end products of Hartman’s conditioning. The Marine Group is
not completed, however, until Joker (and his double Rafterman) have been completely won over.
93. The song “Wooly Bully” plays when Joker meets Animal
Mother. The lyrics in this song echo the confrontation between the two men. It speaks of a “woolly bully”, a bully
who is wrapped in soft wool. In other words, the song speaks of someone who pretends to be tough on the inside, but is really
soft on the outside. This echoes Joker’s remarks at the start of the film, where he calls the USMC a training camp for
the “phoney tough and the crazy brave”. In this scene it is made clear that Joker is the “phoney tough”
or “woolly bully”.
“Hattie told Mattie
About a thing she saw
Had two big horns
And a woolly jaw”
Thus, despite his “big horns”, Joker has a woolly jaw.
He has no bite. This scene can thus be read as Animal Mother, the leader of the tribe, sniffing out the newcomer and recognising
him as a fraud.
Anima Mother: You seen much combat?
Joker: I’ve seen a little on TV.
Animal Mother: You’re a real comedian.
Joker: Well, they call me the Joker.
During this confrontation, the song’s lyrics openly taunt
Joker, the singer laughing as he mocks Joker’s underlying cowardice…
“Wooly bully, woolly bully
Wooly bully, woolly bully
Animal Mother, who instantly recognises Joker as a fraud rather
than a killer, then steps forward and says…
Animal Mother: Well I’ve got a joke for you. I’m
going to tear you a new asshole.
Joker then immediately puffs out his chest and pretends to be riled
up. He puts on his fake war face and assumes his John Wayne persona. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, the following words sound…
“Watch it now, watch it now,
Here it comes, here it comes…”
Joker then steps up to Animal Mother and says…
Joker: Well pilgrim, only after you eat the peanuts outta
The “here it comes” is precisely timed to fit a pause
in the dialogue. It anticipates Joker displaying his “woolly jaw” and urges the audience to “watch closely
for it”. The other marines fall for this act, but Animal Mother isn’t convinced.
Animal Mother: You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?
But of course Joker does not walk the walk. The lines…
“Don’t you take no chance
Don’t you be L7
Come and learn to dance”
…can be interpreted as Animal Mother challenging Joker to
not be a square (L7=square) and to “come learn to dance”. In other words, he’s being told to embrace his
killer instincts, merge with the Cowboy, complete his circle, wire his shit together, flush out his head gear, and “jump
on the team and come in for the big win”.
94. The phrase “I am become death” is written on Animal’s
helmet. This is taken from the “Bhagavad-Gita” (song of God), a Hindu scripture. Robert Oppenheimer, perhaps the
most guilt stricken of the Los Alamos scientists who invented the atomic bomb, famously quoted part of it on national TV in
the late 50s:
“I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.”
That part of this quote would appear on the helmet of a killing
machine like Animal Mother, who is utterly free of guilt, is another ironic dualism reference. But more importantly, we now
understand that Animal Mother is already dead (ie his “feminine” side is dead). The “birthday” of
the dead NVA soldier reinforces this. Only the “dead” survive the institution of war. Pyle refused to remain a
zombie and, in his psychosis, shot himself. Pyle thus becomes death and morphs into Animal Mother.
So war is the ultimate instrument of patriarchal natural selection
and engendering. Its “survivors” are resurrected or reborn as symbols of society’s manufactured masculine
identity. Kubrick is thus arguing that nobody escapes it and everybody- male and female – contributes to it.
95. Crazy Earl tells Rafterman to take a picture of a dead Vietnamese
soldier. This echoes an earlier scene in which Lieutenant Hartford had his picture taken in front of dead Vietnamese. The
marines see the enemy as their “dead brothers”.
96. Crazy Earl looks down the camera and speaks directly to the
audience. When he takes off the NVA’s hat, the word “boo!” is seen on Crazy Earl’s helmet. What’s
more, the singer on the soundtrack lets loose a frightened wail. This contrasts with the sound of marines laughing in the
background like a canned laughter track.
As the second act progresses, “Full Metal Jacket” will
increasingly call attention to itself as being “Vietnam the movie”. Rather than strive for realism, Kubrick calls
attention to the artificiality of his film. The Vietnam segment itself ends with a documentary sequence and marines walking
off into a cinema.
97. Only when he talks about killing NVA gooks, does Crazy Earl
cover the American colours on the corpse’s soldier with the palm of his hand; he cannot slaughter his enemy whilst also
viewing them as brothers.
98. With the symbolic merging of Joker and Cowboy, we can now jump
directly into combat. Whilst the second act of the film has previously been awkward, confusing, wayward and frustrating, with
the merger of intellect and warrior, we can now enter the shit.
The audience gets excited.
99. The Lusthogs march into a city under the command of Lieutenant
Touchdown. Note that the authority figures protecting Joker from the big, bad world, become less and less authoritative as
the film progresses. At first we have the stern and menacing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, then we have the cowardly Lockhart,
then we have the friendly Lieutenant Touchdown, then the goofy old Colonel, then we have Crazy Earl, who’s hardly much
of an authority figure at all, then we have Cowboy, Joker’s best friend. With the removal of Cowboy, Joker is finally
under the command of the anarchic Animal Mother. With no authority lording over him, Joker is now free to kill kill kill!
100. As they march into the city, the troops and tanks are arranged
like toy soldiers.
101. Mortar rounds hammer the Lusthogs. Lieutenant Touchdown is
killed. As the film unfolds, the command structure will systematically be eliminated, killed off one by one, until Animal
Mother takes charge.
102. The marines advance into the city. Most Kubrick films feature
a “Star Gate shot” which represents a character symbolically “evolving” or “regressing”.
2001: A Space Odyssey: Bowman hurtles through a Star Gate and
emerges as a new being.
The Shining: Jack races through the hedge maze and regresses
into a primal ape.
While the pseudo-documentary steadicam shot, which follows the
marines into the city, isn’t as slick as the one that follows Tom Cruise throughout the Somerton Mansion, it nevertheless
conveys a similar evolution. Joker is symbolically cleaning out his head and taking his first steps toward becoming a killer.
This “Star Gate shot” is framed so that a giant poster
of a smiling head, which advertises Hynos toothpaste, occupies the upper half of the screen. The marines are thus advancing
into this Head, with the intention of flushing out its contents. Earlier in the film, Lieutenant Lockhart linked “toothpaste”
and “deodorant” to “winning hearts and minds”. Thus, the military is about to clean, to sweep and
clear, to flush out and eventually win, Joker’s heart and mind.
This notion of “marines marching into a Head” and “flushing
it out” echoes the scene in which Pyle sat upon a toilet and shot himself in the head in the Head. Both scenes deal
with literal violence, but also symbolic indoctrination.
103. The first time we saw the “Hynos Head”, it was
hanging above a traffic roundabout, numerous cars and people darting about in busy circles. The second time we see the “Hynos
Head”, we’re confronted with the skeletal remains of burnt cars, an unnatural amount of discarded car tyres, empty
streets and dilapidated buildings. If, as Deleuze says, the first scene conveys the idea of a brain, busy and confused, the second scene shows a
mind that has been violently pulverised into submission.
104. The marines advance into the Head. Hand Job gets shot by enemy
fire. In retaliation, the marines pepper a building with ammunition, firing incessantly at walls and windows. There’s
a sense of overkill, of profound uselessness, in this sequence. When the marines finally stop firing, a trickle of Vietnamese
soldiers run out like ants.
Note: The building is called Leyna, another feminized symbol.
105. Crazy Earl reloads his gun and waits for the Vietnamese to
reappear. They scurry across the horizon. Crazy Earl shoots and bags himself 3 or 4 kills. He smiles.
106. Kubrick sexualises Crazy Earl’s kills. Not only does
Animal Mother have a cigarette in his helmet and Crazy Earl a smoking pipe in his, but the “kills” take place
before a giant “Cotab cigarettes” poster.
So what we have here are a gang of men symbolically raping Leyna
(the Female Other), and then lighting a smoke after sex. These sexual metaphors, linking violence to intercourse, will be
repeated throughout the film. Later, while a Cotab poster looms over his shoulder, Animal Mother will light up a cigarette
before fucking the second hooker. Similarly, the marines light up smoke grenades prior to hunting the sniper. Likewise, the
Vietnamese pimp offers a hooker to the marines with the line: "Suckee, fuckee, SMOKE CIGARETTE in the pussy, she give you
everything you want. Long time."
107. The song “Surfin Bird” kicks in. The song is infections
and funs and conveys the euphoria and orgasmic pleasure of getting a “confirmed kill”. Joker and the audience
are high on violence.
As the song plays, Kubrick then cuts to a column of tanks marching
into the city. The pleasure of one man getting a couple kills is expanded to the sheer joy of an entire military killing and
dominating with hardware.
“A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word.”
The lyrics also resemble the sound of helicopter rotors, the staccato
beat of the song mimicking the sound of chopper propellers. The cryptic line "the bird is the word" also alludes to the only
other "bird reference" in the film, the character of Stork, who's sole purpose in the film was to introduce the linkage between
"rape" and "war".
Moments later, the repeated lyrics…
....convey the sound of gunfire.
But this pleasure and militaristic enthusiasm is undermined by framing the sequence with a shot of a medical helicopter
evacuating injured soldiers. The joy of combat thus degenerates into the quirky sight of corpses being packed into a chopper.
The scene then degenerates further into a shot of a director (who looks like Kubrick from behind) filming troops hiding below
a wall as American tanks hammer a city from afar.
Thus, with each cut, Kubrick distances us further and further from
the orgasmic introduction of the song. To further distance us, the cast then acknowledges that they are actors in “Vietnam
the movie” and liken their heroism and actions to that of a “Cowboys and Indians” flick in which the “gooks
play the Indians”.
What started out as a moment of pleasure degenerates into a critique
of films which abuse such pleasures. Kubrick distances us from the joy of violence, until we’re forced to process what
we’re seeing as dryly as possible. The orgasmic pleasure of Crazy Earl’s kill, the audience’s joy of finally
experiencing combat, is removed, quickly followed in the next scene by a documentary sequence which further short circuits
The notion of a “director within the film”, “birds”,
“helicopters” and “surfing” also serves to deconstruct “Apocalypse Now’s” famous
“Ride of the Valkyries” sequence. In Coppola’s film, American muscle is flexed in order to clear a beach
for surfing. It’s a fun sequence in which we cheer at the killing of Vietnamese. We get caught up in the cinematic spectacle
of American helicopters assaulting a coastal village. But for all its bravura, Coppola’s surfing bird sequence plays
more like the Death Star Trench Run. Kubrick’s surfing birds, however, acts as a deconstruction of such war movie clichés,
hence why his earlier helicopter sequence is filled with such abrasive, dry detachment:
“How can you shoot women and children?”
“Easy, you just don’t lead them as much. Ain’t
The irony is that in Kubrick’s film it is the little figures
on the ground who are in hell. While Coppola urges his cast to “don’t look at the camera, just run on by! Don’t
look at the camera!”, Kubrick’s stand in director has his cast address the camera directly. The result is complex,
calling into question how films see war, how warriors perceive themselves and how audiences themselves interpret the myths
of combat, as sold to them through TV etc.
108. The marines look down at the corpse of Hand Job. Rafterman
points out that at least Hand Job died for a good cause. Animal Mother mocks Rafterman’s naivety: “Flush out your
head gear, new guy. You think we waste gooks for freedom? This is a slaughter. If I’m going to get my balls blown off
for a word, my word is poontang!”
109. Hand Job’s death is another symbolic killing. The point
here- in military training/colonisation- is that marine recruits are only permitted to have hard-ons when in the company of
their rifles. Kubrick makes explicit this association between adrenaline provoked testosterone levels and rifle-related combat
exhilaration at many junctures during the course of the film.
But Hand Job, now lying dead before the circle of marines, was
“jerking off at least ten times a day”, including a further performance outside the “head shrinker’s
office”. In military demagoguery, only a marine’s rifle, as a techno-phallic substitute, is allowed to be jerked
off. Anything else and the head shrinker flushes you out of the Head.
As Hartman says about the marine’s rifles, “this is
the only piece of pussy you maggots are going to get!” It is Hartman’s job to merge violence and sex by associating
the rifle with sexual pleasure.
Note: With typical Kubriclian symmetry, each act ends with the
marines facing a corpse.
ACT3: The sniper
110. The marines are interviewed by a documentary crew. Each marine
conveys a different view point on the war. Animal Mother is practical and thinks purely in terms of military objectives. Rafterman
is naive and itching for combat. He talks about “turning to the rifle” when the “shit hits the fan”.
Crazy Earl does not know whether America belongs in Vietnam but says that he belongs in Vietnam, implying that such a military
persona can only comfortably exist in combat. Eightball makes a strange distinction between being “alive” and
“free”. He sees death as freedom. Doc Jay believes that the Vietnamese should take care of their own business
and that America has no right to be interfering. Cowboy, who seems a bit confused of himself in the interviews, complains
that there are no horses in Vietnam. Donlon naively thinks that they’re doing good in Vietnam but complains that the
Vietnamese don’t appreciate his efforts. Joker, of course, mocks his own duality, talking about the magnificence of
Vietnamese society but also stating that he wishes to kill “people of an ancient culture”.
Far from being one-dimensional killers, these marines are all distinct,
supremely individual, entertaining different viewpoints despite being slaves to a very singular ideology.
THE SECOND PROSTITUTE SEQUENCE
Full Metal Jacket is broken down into 3 distinct parts.
PRIMER: Skulls being shaven
PARIS ISLAND BOOT CAMP
PRIMER: Joker and Rafterman denied the whore
VIETNAM THE MOVIE
PRIMER: Marines finally win the whore
CODA: Mickey Mouse Chant
The second act of the film is bracketed by scenes in which the
marines barter with whores. In the first “whore scene”, sex is INTERRUPTED by a stolen camera. In the second “whore
scene”, sex is INSTIGATED by the promise of trading guns. Significantly, only Rafterman and Joker are present in the
first scene, whilst all the marines are present in the second. It is the very act of entering the cinema for the purpose of
“paying” and “fucking” the hooker, which leads to Rafterman and Joker becoming part of the Marine
Group. This unseen act of “paying” and “fucking” the hooker in the cinema, is then symbolised as the
Sniper Showdown, a sequence in which the marines “payback”, “kill”, “rifle-fuck” and “rape”
the little girl.The film makes implicit the connection between
the hookers and the sniper in several ways. Throughout the film, Full Metal Jacket equates sex with violence, guns with cocks,
fucking with murder. Consider how the ARVN officer uses the phrase “boom-boom” to describe sex (“no boom-boom
with soul brother”), a phrase which is repeated during the showdown with the sniper (“no more boom-boom for this
baby-san”). “Boom-boom” is also the sound of gunfire. Similarly, the term “baby-san” was used
by Eightball during the prostitute scene (“This baby-san looks like she could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.”
Eightball also refers to the prostitute as “meat”, after showing her his “meat” (“don’t
get between a dog and his meat”). Later, the sniper is referred to as “meat” (“she’s dead meat”).
The sniper is also linked to the first hooker (“be sure you only fuck the ones that cough”), when she coughs on
her death bed. Joker even comments that the dying sniper is praying, whilst earlier, in the first whore scene, the hooker
stood beside a picture of Jesus praying. Similarly, when Joker asks “what should we do with her?” when gazing
down at the sniper, he gets the reply “Fuck her”, which we assume is exactly what the marines do the hooker in
the killing of the sniper, Joker also acquires the thousand-yard stare. Earlier, this stare was linked to “ball games”
and “rape”, and we already know that Kubrick deleted a famous scene that featured Animal Mother playing ball with
the sniper’s decapitated head. The killing of the sniper itself is filmed like a sex scene, the sniper sprawled on the
floor, panting, her body jolting gently. Kubrick shoots the scene in medium close ups like a sex act, and has Rafterman rock
his rifle before his cock, whilst the other marines let loose a chorus of “hardcores” and “fucking hardcores”.
links the hooker and the sniper numerous times (meat/baby-san/sister/boom boom/coughing/praying/fuck her). Thus, whilst in
the first “whore scene” Joker is thwarted in his attempt to fuck the hooker, in the second “whore scene”
he has evolved to the point where he can fuck the hooker, whereby the act of “fucking” or “raping”
is symbolic of the “killing” of the Feminine Other, an act which itself is suicidal.
SCENE BY SCENE BREAKDOWN CONTINUTED
“Americans are prisoners of their own mythology, having watched too
many of their own movies. If they ever want to send Americans to the gas chambers, they’ll herd us into cinder-block
movie houses.” – Gustav Hasford.
111. The marines
sit before a bombed out French Colonialist cinema. Movie posters litter the walls. These posters advertise films such as “Mad
Giang”, “Red River” and “Lone Ranger”, all films dealing with conquest and colonisation. One
picture goes so far as to have a white cowboy lifting and throwing an Indian away.
Each side of the theatre also features panels of black and white
photographs. These resemble the photo panels of the Overlook Hotel.
Behind the marines looms a huge picture of an Indian Chief, a signifier
which references The Shining, a film which dealt with slaughter and genocide. Moments later, the marines will address a Vietnamese
pimp as “chief”, thereby linking the Vietnamese to the Native Americans of The Shining, the marines thus becoming
a “Mad Giang” of “Lone Rangers”, dutifully doing the bidding of the House. The Overlook Hotel itself
is always ever-present, the marines constantly calling on “Hotel One Actual” for ordinance and instructions.
112. A hooker approaches on a motorcycle, the words “Crème”
appropriately behind her. This scene mirrors the primer scene which begins act 2, a sequence which also featured a hooker
BEGINNING OF ACT 2
viewed from behind, walking away from audience.
2. Hooker arrives on foot, camera escapes on motorcycle.
END OF ACT 2
viewed from the front, driving toward audience.
2. Hooker arrives on motorcycle, marines enter cinema on foot.
So we have several juxtapositions here. In the first “whore scene”,
the hooker approaches from behind. In the second “whore scene”, the hooker approaches from the front. Similarly,
in the first “whore scene” a camera is stolen and leaves on a motorcycle. In contrast, in the second “whore
scene” a woman arrives on a motorcycle before entering a cinema.
So the second “whore scene” is a reflection of the first “whore
scene”. Kubrick sees meaning in difference. The marines find themselves in Vietnam, and suddenly their training begins
to dissolve. Their hair re-grows and they seek contact with the Feminine Other. Have you got a girlfriend in Vietnam? Not
just this minute.
Joker's surrogate gun is then stolen. Joker, who uses the camera as a crutch to
distance himself from combat, finds his camera taken away. Because of this theft, he cannot pay and fuck the hooker. Only
with the removal of the camera and the arrival of the gun, can Joker and Rafterman enter the cinema to eradicate, to fuck,
to rape and destroy, the female Other. In Hartman’s world, you cannot shoot women and children with cameras. If the
military is seen as a masculinized rites of passage, getting a confirmed kill, that symbolic sexual act, is seen as the final
barrier separating the green faced virgins from attaining absolute manhood. But this very notion of becoming “adult”
and “sexually active” is parodied in the final scene, where the marines walk and chant like children. Far from
showing the men attaining manhood, Kubrick calls into question the very process of maturation and masculinization.
Note: I am aware that it is Rafterman’s camera that is stolen. But both
men are journalists and Kubrick treats them as one body. Rafterman is the naïve, trigger happy journalist whilst Joker is
the tentative pacifist. Like most things in the film, they’re mirror opposites. Opposing dualities who finally merge.
113. While the other marines haggle over the prostitute, Joker looks extremely
114. Eightball refers to the hooker as “meat”, “baby-san”,
“sister” and is told that he cannot “boom boom” her. These are all semiotic clues which symbolically
link the hooker to the sniper.
115. Eightball calls the hooker a “little yellow sister” during the
sexual negotiations. This echoes an earlier sequence in which Cowboy and Joker bartered over Cowboy’s sister. The Paris
island barter took place after a conversation about Pyle and his gun. The Vietnam barter likewise takes place after talk of
trading ARVN rifles. So in both cases we see the marines wanting to fuck “little sisters” after talking about
They get their wish 20 minutes later, when they gun-fuck the sniper.
116. Animal Mother throws away a cigarette before entering
the cinema with the hooker. The film continuously links “smoking” with “sex” and “sex”
with “rape and violence”. Indeed, just before he enters the theatre, a large “Cotab cigarettes” sign
appears over the hooker’s shoulder.
117. Images, films and photographs, distance one from reality. Whilst the second
act of the film is a deconstruction of “Vietnam the movie”, supremely self conscious and artificial, with the
act of entering the cinema, the marines are proceeding into Vietnam the reality. It is here that the film suddenly becomes
less self-aware and more “realistic”.
118. Joker’s camera, and his very existence as a photographer, severs only
to insulate him from the truth of combat. Joker may engage with combat on an intellectual level, he may think he understands
it, but until that camera is stolen and he literally enters the image (where the image is representative of truth), can he
actually experience what being a “hard hearted killer” is.
And so this is what Kubrick hopes to convey by contrasting the stolen camera with
the action of “marines entering the cinema”. The “fucking in the cinema” is the truth of Vietnam.
It is the hidden image which we cannot see, cannot comprehend, cannot realise, actualise or ever hope to fully articulate.
It is a dark truth which Joker cannot experience until he drops his camera and enters the reality behind the picture.
119. The cinema seats are facing outwards, pointing towards Kubrick’s vast
Vietnam set. In a sense, the marines are watching Kubrick’s Vietnam, supremely self conscious and artificial, while
the unapproachable reality exists in the theatre behind them.
120. Though it is not shown, the marines take the hooker
into the cinema for sex. A sort of gang rape then unfolds. Act 3, which is a confrontation with a sniper, is thus a symbolic
representation of this unseen sexual encounter.
SEX, SMOKING AND SOLDIERING
Sex and violence are linked throughout the
film. It's Hartman's job to merge the two. But Kubrick links them in some pretty obscure scenes as well. For example, during
Joker and Rafterman's “trigger time” conversation a group of soldiers can be seen in the background playing basketball
and football. Later, when Payback mentions “the thousand yard stare” another marine mentions “rape”
and “basketball” immediately afterwards. This echoes an earlier juxtaposition in which Cowboy and Joker had “hard
ons” and talked about "fucking sisters" whilst thinking about Pyle “cleaning his rifle”. We see the marine
persona developing here. “Entering the shit and acquiring a war face” is not only seen to be a sexualised act
akin to rape, but it’s also communal act; as participatory as a ball game.
Later in the film, the marines hammer a building
called Leyna with fire. They “boom-boom” Leyna, pumping furiously away at her brick and cement. During a pause
in the fire, some enemy soldiers dart outside, four of which are gunned down by Crazy Earl. Kubrick sexualises Crazy Earl’s
kills. Not only does Animal Mother have a cigarette in his helmet and Crazy Earl a pipe in his, but the “kills”
take place before a giant “Cotab cigarettes” poster.
This theme of men symbolically raping Leyna
(the Female Other), and then lighting a smoke after sex, is actualised in the film’s two other confrontations with women.
Animal lights up a smoke before fucking the hooker whilst the marines toss smoke grenades in anticipation of killing the sniper.
Payback also smokes when talking about the “thousand yard stare” whilst Rafterman, still too “green to smoke”,
carries a sealed box of cigarettes when he first mentions his wish to “go out into the shit”. Likewise, the Vietnamese
pimp offers a hooker to the marines with the line: "Suckee, fuckee, SMOKE CIGARETTE in the pussy, she give you everything
you want. Long time."
The notion of “ball games” is
present in all these instances as well. The marines speak of “batting orders” prior to fucking the hooker, war
is likened to a “hard ball” game, the marines are “playing ball” when Rafterman talks about going
into the shit, they discuss basketball when talking about rape and in a deleted scene, play ball with the sniper’s decapitated
head. The sniper even seals her fate by shooting the “eight ball” first, an action which, in billiards (another
ball game), results in a guaranteed loss.
All these intercontextual
strands are brought together in the final scene, where “payback”, “rape”, “fucking”, “the
thousand yard stare” and “ball games” are intertwined.
An excerpt from Padraig Henry’s
“Prostitutes, Pimps, and Patriarchy”
One of the ways in which prostitution and
masculine identity are shown to be reinforced in Full Metal Jacket, is through the pervading use of Wild West mythology.
Although references to western mythology
abound throughout Full Metal Jacket, the second prostitute scene contains what are perhaps among the most important. Firstly,
the entire scene takes place outside a French Colonialist cinema that features two oppositional references to the 'wild west':
a "Lone Ranger" sign over the cinema entrance and a poster of a Native American on the wall.
Secondly, this scene immediately follows
another scene that served as Kubrick's comprehensive commentary on media representations and constructions of Vietnam, which
demonstrates how such representations are largely informed by cinematic representations of the Wild West. In short, the scene
explicitly connects the Vietnam War with the wars fought against the Indians in the colonization process. Thirdly, it is Cowboy
who successfully concludes negotiations with the Vietnamese pimp by atavistically aping the "Sex-for-Guns" commodity transaction
that was common between settlers and Indian girls during the "settlement" of America. Notice too how this transaction links,
firstly, to the recruits' Parris Island indoctrination regime that resulted in their internalisation of the association between
their rifles and sexual arousal, but now in reverse order, and secondly, to the complete absence of such a link in the first
prostitute scene, where the "pimp" prefers to steal Rafterman's camera, before engaging in, or appropriating, some cinematic
The fourth and final western reference in
this second-prostitute scene is much more complex and wide-ranging. In this scene, Eightball, in a gesture that foreshadows
his killing by the female Vietnamese sniper, replies self-deprecatingly to the prostitute’s assertion that "soul brotha too boo-coo" by declaring that "This baby-san looks like she could suck
the chrome off a trailer hitch." This line appears to be a direct quotation from a western revisionist film that was made
in 1979: Sydney Pollack's The Electric Horseman, which starred Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, and Willie Nelson, the latter speaking
the line in question.
Kubrick never included citations from other films, excluding his own, in his own work, whether accidentally or intentionally,
so it is not unreasonable to conclude that this citation therefore represents one of the few exceptions in all of his work
as a filmmaker (there are others in Full Metal Jacket, primarily from John Wayne movies). Should this be correct, its importance
Because The Electric Horseman was made eleven years after the actual events portrayed in Full Metal Jacket, but eight
years before the film itself, Kubrick seems to be widening his commentary beyond historical references and influences towards
a broader, societal analysis of the underlying objectives and goals of U.S. imperialism. Pollack's film is a portrait of corporate
America that illustrates how contemporary U.S. expansionism operates through the institutional mechanism of corporate capitalism,
including Multi-National Corporations and associated mass media, mass marketing, and mass advertising. In The Electric Horseman,
Robert Redford plays an obsolete cowboy who now earns a living as a corporate "pimp" through advertising breakfast cereals;
nostalgic pictures of the western cowboy are here being used to colonize the minds of U.S. consumers, though both the western
hero and the frontier have long since disappeared. The "new" frontier for the cowboy is now that of the media: advertisements
on TV, magazines, cereal boxes, and billboards; whereas the actual Wild West itself is now merely a multiplex gambling casino
in an Indian reservation.
Furthermore, the character of Victor Ziegler
- a brutal philistine with an art gallery in his bathroom - played by Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut, refers to a "Snowball"
(a black Parris Island recruit) while in his bathroom with a prostitute, and later states that he is "just knocking a few
balls around" (a possible indirect reference to Eightball) while in his pool room - a room furnished with many of the trophies
and artefacts of colonialist commerce.
In “American Myth and the Legacy of
Vietnam”, John Hellman argues that "the Peace Corps man and the soldier were symbolic links to the nation’s frontier
heritage" (so was the Space Program, not to mention Star Trek). As such, Full Metal Jacket is littered with frontier references
and the marines are frequently identified with that potent symbol of the New Frontier, John Wayne. But of course, the nearest
the marines get to any real “frontier” is a run-down cinema in Hue advertising The Long Ranger. Here, Joker’s
apparently contradictory slogans are revealed to represent the underlying motive behind both the Special Forces and the Peace
Corps. Kubrick reveals that both are effectively part of one all-embracing political and cultural agenda, that Joker’s
“duality of man” is a comfortable illusion, another of Joker’s jokes. And it is itself interesting that
Joker offers this explanation in a scene where 20 lime covered Vietnamese bodies are shown, executed when they reported for
Before the sniper scene and after the “cinema”
scene, there occurs an incident which finally demolishes the myth of the expanding territorial Frontier: We see Crazy Earl
killed by a booby-trapped children’s toy. Crazy Earl was also assigned the role of General Custer in the film. General
Custer, the archetypal frontiers’ man, was killed by Indian Chief Crazy Horse in 1876. So here we have one character,
Crazy Earl, representing a merging of dualities, a merging of General Custer and Crazy Horse, each a victim of the other’s
But the “final frontier”
in Full Metal Jacket is a losing confrontation with the horrors of a shattered Self.
ACT 3: HELL
121. There are two long fades
in the film. The first occurs after Pyle’s death and the second occurs after Animal Mother leads the whore into the
cinema. These fades serve to separate acts 1, 2 and 3.
122. Silence. The
marines walk through a bombed out city. They travel from right to left. Using reverse shots, however, Joker is seen to be
travelling in the opposite direction.
122.b. Next to a Shell Oil Logo, the words "Tiep tuc phung su quy ngai" appear.
This could mean: "To always serve satan, your excellency", "Always humbly serving you faithfully", "Always serving and laying
down (literally: to lay prostate) before you faithfully", "To always serve and lay down before your excellence" and "Continually
and faithfully serving the banks".
The various translations all depend on where diacritical marks lay. So as you
can see, the phrase is either a rather innocent corporate logo ("Always serving and protecting you faithfully" etc) or something
more cynical (literally "serving fiends/devils/the banks" etc) depending on where the diacritical marks lay.
Shell controlled half of Vietnam's oil supply during the war, and some books
mention the way the company fuelled and funded both sides of the conflict and helped mobilize the less developed South (after
the war, most of the oil rich off-shore fields went to Standard Oil). Whether Kubrick is alluding to all that, I don't know.
It's quite far fetched. But then, the film was filmed on an abandoned gas works, linking the film, in a way, directly to fossil
123. Crazy Earl picks up an innocuous looking child’s toy. The toy explodes
and Crazy Earl dies. Later, a seemingly innocent young girl will likewise pick off the marines.
123b. Cowboy calls
Murphy at “Hotel One Actual”. Cowboy is given command of the Lusthogs.
124. Silence. The
marines walk through a bombed out city. They travel from left to right. Joker is now travelling in synch with his comrades.
125. The marines
are lost and confused. They’re humping back and forth, left and right, and have no idea where they are.
126. Cowboy and Eightball
consult a map. “We’re here, and we should be here?” Cowboy asks, pointing to the right and left of the map
respectively. “That’s right,” Eightball nods.
incompetence throughout the third act. He’s always calling for instructions and during this conversation, subtly leaves
it up to Eightball to make the final decision.)
127. Eightball is
sent ahead to scout a safe path through the city. Signs labelled “MY TOAN” and “TAMPHUON” protrude
from the surrounding buildings. These are phonetic jokes, “MY TOAN” meaning “my town” and “TAM
PHUONG” resembling “tampon”. Like the “LEYNA” sign seen earlier, this is another humorous symbol
of the Feminine Other.
From Tuttle compact Vietnamese/English dictionary:
"My Toan" may mean "All Mine", "all good" or "Perfect little beauty"
Tam Phuong" may mean "Cleaning Squad" or "Cleaning Merchants"
Note that "My Toan" appears above the Sniper and "Tam Phuong" above the marines.
128. A sniper shoots Eightball in the leg. Eightball collapses. The marines instinctively fire into
the city. Like the earlier battle, there’s a sense of profound uselessness. For all the ammunition spent, for all their
gear and technology, they hit nothing.
129. The sniper shoots
Eightball in the arm. She hopes to lure the others in. Cowboy, still cowardly, calls for tank support. He is denied tank support.
Too scared to venture into the city, Cowboy orders the men to stay put. Doc Jay disobeys Cowboy and runs off to help Eightball.
131. The sniper shoots
Doc Jay. The marines once again pepper the city with fire, and rockets. They hit nothing. Cowboy orders the men to abandon
Eightball and Doc Jay, but the other marines protest. Animal Mother breaks free of the group and ventures into the city himself.
He instinctively knows that there is only one sniper.
132. During the interview
segments, Doc Jay and Eightball were the only two marines to question America’s involvement in Vietnam. These two “weak”
marines are thus “flushed out” of the Lusthogs. As Cowboy says, “Doc Jay and Eightball are wasted”.
If Kubrick portrays the military as being obsessively concerned with ideological and masculine purification, these two men
are seen as inferior waste products who must be flushed out, leaving behind a clean, lean, beautiful squad.
133. No-Doze, Stutten,
Dunlon, Rock, Joker, Rafterman and Cowboy head off to help Animal Mother. However, when the camera rises and the marines leave
the safety of the wall, we see only six marines heading out. One’s missing.
In the horizontal
tracking shot that follows, we then see 5 marines linking up with Animal Mother. Two marines are now missing.
So with each cut,
the number of marines decreases by one. This number changes in the subsequent reverse shot, where Kubrick pauses and shows
us eight marines. The payoff of these subliminal shots occurs during the film’s climax, when only five marines stand
over the sniper’s corpse. Two marines are once again missing.
As author Padraig
Henry writes, “The two missing marines are an intentional omission on Kubrick’s part: the sniper is the sixth
“marine”, and Pyle is the seventh, and their destruction by Joker represents Joker’s destruction of what
remains that is feminine, innocent and infantile in his own brutalised identity. All that remains of the hollowed-out Joker
is his “full metal jacket”, a soul-less retrogressive zombie in a metallic shell. Hence the appeal of the Mickey
Mouse Club song in the final shot (and Joker’s banal articulation in voice-over of his pre-adolescent sexual fantasy):
a hopeless yearning for the safety of childhood feminine/motherly nurturing, an emotional nurturing which boot-camp and war
134. For the fourth
time, the uncertain Cowboy contacts Murphy for guidance. Before Murphy can respond, the sniper shoots Cowboy in the heart.
135. The sniper fires
at Cowboy from a dark hole shaped like the state of Texas. As Cowboy looks up, the camera zooming in on the distant fissure,
we know that he has seen not just the sniper, but also his very own destiny.
Texas twice in boot camp, first when praising JFK’s assassin, and secondly when deriding Cowboy with the lines, “only
steers (cows) and queers come from Texas.”
The implication is
thus that in Hartman’s eyes, Cowboy, in being both “cow” and “queer”, in being an “effeminate
cowboy”, deserves to be slain by this unseen, but obviously superior, male warrior.
(Note: JFK was assassinated
in Texas, sniped from an overhead window)
136. The marines
drag Cowboy to safety and huddle over his dying body.
don’t shit me, Joker! Don’t shit me!”
Joker: “I wouldn’t
shit you, man. You’re my favourite turd.”
Like Doc Jay and
Eightball, two other “wasted” marines, Cowboy is about to be “shit” out of the squad.
137. As they stand
around Cowboy’s corpse, a tall pillar can be seen directly behind the marines. The composition strongly resembles several
scenes in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, in which apes and humans cluster around the monolith. And like those scenes,
this compositions conjures up a feeling of evolution, of some profound change taking place within Joker.
It is at this moment
that Animal Mother walks up to Joker, hellish flames dancing across his face. “Let’s get some payback,”
Animal says. Joker agrees with his Shadow: “Okay.”
138. The marines
toss smoke grenades. This isn’t Vietnam anymore. This is a Dantesque hell; metallic sounds, primitive shapes, dark shadows
and smouldering flames.
139. Animal Mother
shouts, “Watch that hole!” To the left of the screen is the famous “Nixon Hole”, carved into the wall
by Kubrick’s art department with special acid. The hole resembles the iconic silhouette of Richard Nixon. Nixon successfully
negotiated a ceasefire with the North Vietnamese, and was responsible for ending American involvement in the Vietnam War.
140. Before spying
the sniper, Joker slowly creeps before a maze-like grid in the rubble. He is entering the labyrinth. But though Danny Torrance
enters the maze and defeats the Minotaur at the end of “The Shining” (thereby breaking free of history’s
murderous chains), Joker’s defeat of the sniper will result in his enslavement (in his propagation of the very horrors
he attempted to resist).
first production company, on Killer’s Kiss, was “Minotaur Productions”)
141. The music in
this scene, written by Kubrick’s daughter, is a subtle juxtaposition between clanking technology and mournful flutes.
This contrast between a mechanised America and a Third World Vietnam, suggests not so much a conflict, but a predestined eradication.
Coupled with the abstract landscape, these primitive shapes and sounds suggest something more than war. This is destruction
and preservation on a more basic and primal level.
142. The sniper sits and waits in her perch, daring, somewhat sadly, these men to attack her. And attack they do.
But why? What is it that drives these soldiers to hunt her? What motivates them? Well, as far as Kubrick bothers to attribute
psychological motivation to his characters, he seems to be saying that it’s nothing more than vengeance. The marines
beat Pyle because they want basic revenge. He has tortured them and in turn they have tortured him. As a result, Pyle malfunctions.
What does he then proceed to do? He enacts vengeance on the man who abused him, Sgt Hartman. Likewise the marines, in the
third act, propelled by a need to avenge their fallen comrades, resolve to hunt down the sniper. It's nothing more than PAYBACK.
A monetary transaction. As Joker says: “It’s just business.” Significantly, it’s also a marine called
Payback who first mentions “the thousand yard stare” and it’s rape-like connotations.
So in each case, the marines are essentially lashing out because
the “Mickey Mouse Club” is fostering anger and redirecting it toward an enemy for it’s own personal gains.
Is Jack Torrance not similarly mismanaged in The Shining, the upper class lords of the Overlook Hotel directing Jack’s
insecurities and tensions towards ethnic and sexual minorities (Danny, Wendy, Halloran). In each film, violence is deliberately
bred and directed outward toward the Other…toward racial minorities and lower classes. The irony is that it’s
only the Overlook Hotel receiving pay and profit for the payback it’s droogs facilitate.
143. Joker enters the sniper’s lair. He attempts to shoot the sniper in the back, but his gun jams.
This reveals Joker’s impotency, his failure to absorb Hartman’s conditioning and his resultant inability to commit
144. The sniper is
a young girl: both Infantile and Feminine. She is everything Hartman tried to eradicate within Joker. But as this scene shows,
she is every bit the soldier that Hartman’s marines are. She is both heart-hearted grunt and effeminate child.
screenplay describes the sniper as a “beautiful fifteen year old Vietnamese angel WITH the hard eyes of a grunt”.
145. Rafterman comes
to Joker’s rescue. He shoots the sniper in the “left”, the “right” and then the “heart”.
This “left-right-forward” motiff is present throughout the film.
146. As Kubrick’s
screenplay states, Rafterman then “sweeps and clears” the room like a “super-grunt”. He now has the
thousand yard stare, reloads his gun in the shadows, is always separated from Joker by a vertical column and holds his rifle
upright whilst Joker’s tiny pistol is always pointed to the floor.
Throughout the second
act of the film, Joker and Rafterman are constantly portrayed as opposites. But now their dual is identities are complete:
Rafterman, the warrior who kills mercilessly and Joker, the journalist who will only kill out of compassion.
147. With her ponytails
and chequered scarf, the sniper strongly resembles Wendy Torrance. Such intercontextual visual quotes are nothing new in Kubrick’s
filmography. Consider these similar examples: The Lolita and Delbert Grady figures in Eyes Wide Shut, a cane waving Alex dressed
as Lord Bullington, Peter Sellers calling himself Spartacus, the Lord and Lady Lyndon mannequins in Eyes Wide Shut etc. But
though the sniper strongly resembles Wendy Torrance, she is hardly a figure of subservient femininity.
148. Joker and Rafterman
hear the other marines approaching. Joker hides cowardly behind a pillar.
149. As Animal Mother
and the gang appear, Rafterman rocks his rifle before his cock, thrusting back and forth sexually. Like a teenager who has
just lost his virginity, he views his first kill to be a declaration of manhood.
fucking blew her away! (kisses rifle) Am I a life taker? Am I a heart breaker?”
150. The sniper prays
on her deathbed. While in the first act the marines pray to their rifles, here the sniper is effectively praying for the men
to shoot her. The irony of course is that the “minister’s of death, praying for war” have enemies who are
themselves “praying to be killed”. This is American propaganda at its most pure: killing Vietnam to save her,
Vietnam praying for a freedom which only American ministers can deliver.
151. Kubrick once
again links the sniper to the Vietnamese prostitutes by having The Rock say: “No more boom-boom for this baby san. She’s
152. Possibly unimportant,
a trick of the eyes: Animal and Joker then have a short conversation. What’s interesting is that Animal speaks to his
left, facing Rafterman, whilst Joker speaks to his right, again facing Rafterman.
Animal Mother: Okay, let’s get the fuck out of here.
Joker: What about
her? (said to Rafterman)
Animal Mother: Fuck
her. Let her rot.
Joker: We can’t
just leave her here.
Animal Mother: Hey
asshole, Cowboy’s wasted. You’re fresh out of friends. I’m running this squad now, and I say we leave the
gook for the mother loving rats. (said to Rafterman)
not trying to run this squad, I’m just saying we can’t leave her like this.
Animal Mother: If
you want to waste her, go on, waste her. (to Rafterman)
It's almost as though
Animal is telling Rafterman to kill the sniper, whilst Joker is addressing Rafterman as Animal. Later, at the end of the film,
we see Animal, Rafterman and Joker marching side by side. The implication is that they are now all one?
152.b After her prayer, the sniper chants "đầu quân" and "chieu mo".
She then says "shoot me"."đầu quân" is a command meaning "Go to the Army! Enlist!". "chiêu mộ" is a verb
meaning to "recruit" or "to enlist".
It's unlikely that the sniper really says "shoot me" in English. Joker is, in
a sense, willing himself to kill her. Joker's (disavowed) desire to shoot the sniper is not just pathological because he might
be imagining her 'order' to shoot, it's pathological even if the sniper does give the order, even if he rationalizes it as
a 'mercy killing'.
152.c In the FMJ script, the sniper does not speak any English, but, variously,
French and Vietnamese, and none of the marines suggest that she is 'praying'; rather, the script simply asserts that she is
"The sniper begins to pray in Vietnamese."
But later, and just before Joker shoots her, this
As Joker lifts his grease gun she is praying in French."
While this moving between indigenous
language and the language of the colonialist is cryptic, all of this occurs while Joker rationalizes his 'mercy killing' via
the following (existentially narcissistic) internal monologue:
"I try to decide what I would want if I were down,
half dead, hurting bad, surrounded by my enemies. I look into her eyes, trying to find the answer. She sees me. She recognizes
me - I am the one who will end her life. We share a bloody intimacy."
This is standard fetishistic disavowal,
Joker deluding himself that it isn't 'really' him who is shooting the sniper, but the sniper herself who is really shooting
the sniper (that he is only channelling her, that he is really doing it for her), allowing him the subjective appearance
that it's a 'mercy killing'.
It could be that those phrases "to enlist", "to join", "to recruit", are equivalent to
"shoot me" in this context, Joker becoming 'hard core' (a fully constituted grunt, now a fully castrated member of Mother
Green and her Killing Machine, the military symbolic order) when he shoots the sniper.
153. Joker shoots
the sniper in the head. His peace button disappears from view when he pulls the trigger, leaving only “Born to Kill”
visible on his helmet.
154. As the thousand
yard stare drifts over Joker’s face, the marines spew another sexual remark: “Hardcore man, fucking hardcore!”
155. As explained
earlier, the “killing of the sniper” is structured and shot to resemble a sex scene, Kubrick linking the hookers
and sniper numerous times. Thus, whilst in the first “whore scene”, Joker is thwarted in his attempt to fuck the
hooker, in the second “whore scene” (and by extension the “sniper scene”) Joker has evolved to the
point where he can fuck the hooker whereby the act of “fucking”, “shooting” or “raping”
is symbolic of the “killing” of the Feminine Other.
156. We’re then
led to believe that Joker’s “mercy killing” is the final step in the men achieving purity. The Child and
the Feminine Other have been destroyed, leaving behind, we assume, a one dimensional, hyper masculinized killer.
But Kubrick exposes this duality
as a myth. The female sniper is as much a soldier (man) as Joker is. She’s been through the same conditioning, and is
every bit as capable of being a hard hearted grunt. What Joker intended as a compassionate mercy killing to ease her pain,
is thus suddenly mirrored onto Pyle’s suicide in the first third of the film. This is not merely a case of further rejecting
the feminine, it is a case of soldier killing self. It’s another suicide.
157. Joker dies and is reborn. Once
again Kubrick hits us with the left-right-forward motif. The marines walk off into the night, but using reverse cuts, Joker,
Rafterman and Animal Mother are seen to be walking in the opposite direction. They are now part of the Mickey Mouse Club,
but mistakenly do not view themselves as being members of the collective. Unlike Pyle, they have negotiated a space for their
As philosopher Slavoj Zizek
argues: "The second part of the film ends with a soldier (Joker) who, throughout the film has displayed a kind of ironic
"human distance" towards the military machine, shoots a wounded Vietcong sniper girl. He is the one in whom the interpellation
by the military Big Other has fully succeeded; he is the fully constituted military subject."
Zizek continues, "The
lesson is therefore clear: an ideological identification exerts a true hold on us precisely when we maintain an awareness
that we are not fully identical to it, that there is a rich human being beneath it. 'I am also a human person' is the very
form of ideology, of its 'practical efficiency'."
In other words, ideology
cannot function if its members do not have a trans-ideological view of themselves. One cannot be a member of the Mickey Mouse
Club, unless one sees himself as an individual, capable of free thought and an existence beyond ideology.
And it is this fact which
allows Joker, the watchful cynic, to be drawn into the Mickey Mouse Club. Joker, unlike Pyle, successfully keeps his distance.
While his buddies are “cowboys” and “animals”, Joker is able to rationalise his killing of the sniper
as an act of compassion. He mistakenly does not view himself as being part of the group, which is actually systematically
shaping him and gradually drawing him further in. It is precisely this detachment which allows him to be an efficiently functioning,
unknowing slave to ideology, but without fatally destroying or compromising himself at the same time. Hartman is intentionally exploiting a fundamental lack or vulnerability in adolescent males, scatologically 'substituting'
the institutional Mother Green for its supposedly biological, localised maternal precedent.
158. Significantly, Kubrick ends the film with Animal Mother, Joker and Rafterman walking side by side. These are the
final products of military indoctrination: Joker, the effeminate intellect, Rafterman, the naïve child, Animal Mother, the
psychopathic killer. Child, Feminine and Killer, all occupying the same space in the head. There is no duality here. No comfortable
right and wrong, left and right, compassion and aggression. The subject is split, fragmented, the easy moral splits of Platoon
and Apocalypse Now, exposed as myths.
The military has successfully
colonised another jolly green giant. All the erroneous shit has been washed away, cleaned and flushed out, leaving behind
the perfect marine.
Pyle may conclude the first part of the film, but it is Joker who ends it with a voiceover at the end: “I’m in
a world of shit, yes, but I’m alive and I’m not afraid.” Not
only does his rejoining of the group and the defeat of the sniper elicit Joker’s full belief in himself and his strength
(his voice dominates over those of the other men), but it also posits an alternative to Pyle’s narrative. Right before
his suicide, Pyle tells Joker that he is in a “world of shit”. By co-opting Pyle’s language, by acknowledging
that he is indeed in a “world of shit” but that this world does not necessitate suicide and in fact teaches him
his own strength, Joker successfully rewrites the narrative that Pyle can never successfully complete. Joker is able to retain
his individual identity within the system in the same “world of shit” that prevents Pyle from accomplishing the
same goal, confirming that it is not the “world” that prevents Pyle’s successful negotiation of his own
identity, but Pyle himself.
But the biggest horror is that the “dead” think of themselves as being “alive”. Joker articulates
this at the end of the film when he states that though he is in a “world of shit” he is lucky to still be “alive”.
Eightball criticises this way of thinking, though, when he mocks the enemy for wanting to be “alive” rather than
“free”. The implication is that only actual death provides freedom in a world where those “poor dumb bastards”
don’t recognise their lives are being held captive.
The very last line of the film (“who’s the leader of the this club that’s made for you and me?”),
makes it clear that though the marines are happy and at home in their new club, even encouraging others to join in with their
song, they are still utterly clueless as to what they are here and who exactly are the leaders that now control them.
Paint it black. An appropriately angst-filled song, containing references to: “new born babies” (Joker), “riddles”
(“something about the duality of man, sir!”), “looking away”, “looking inside myself and seeing
my heart is black” and lines like “maybe then ill fade away and not have to face the facts” and “I
could not foresee this thing happening to you”.
song loosely mirrors Joker’s narrative, but also, it’s sense of introspection, it’s desire to “paint
it all black”, an act which goes against Hartman’s obsessive desire to clean, whiten and sanitize his men and
his world, is a direct contrast to Joker’s passive, zombie-like acceptance of his new role.
FULL METAL JACKET’S FINAL CODA
Metal Jacket ends with Joker’s narration superimposed over the Marine group’s Mickey Mouse Chant.
have NAILED our names in the pages of history, enough for today. We HUMP down to the Perfume River to set in for the night.
My thoughts drift back to ERECT NIPPLE WET DREAMS about Mary Jane ROTTENCROTCH and the great homecoming FUCK FANTASY. I am
so happy that I am alive, in one piece and short. I am in a world of shit, yes, but I am alive. And I am not afraid.”
group chant (chorus omitted):
play fair and we work hard and we’re in harmony.”
let us hold our banner high.”
and girls from far and near you’re welcome as can be.”
the leader of the club that’s made for you and me?”
is marching coast to coast and far across the sea?”
along and sing our song and join our family.”
the leader of the club that’s made for you and me?”
interesting thing about Joker’s narration is the emphasis on sex (nailed, humped etc) and shit. Full Metal Jacket
has repeated sex and shit motifs, and here Kubrick brings these cycles to a close.
The playing of the Mickey Mouse anthem also draws our attention to the Marine’s
infantilism, a desire on their part to return to childhood in spite of the process of masculinization we witnessed throughout
the film. Kubrick, as ever, resists a cheap polemical denouement, suggesting that in spite of the hardcore conditioning of
the Marines, in spite of Joker’s final self-destructive capitulation by shooting the female grunt sniper, a certain
irrepressible pseudo-humanity still lingers, and it is this which underpins ideology.
Mickey Mouse chant also directly contrasts Hartman’s conditioning. If the military is seen as a masculinized rites of
passage, getting a confirmed kill, that symbolic sexual act, is seen as the final barrier separating the green faced virgins
from attaining absolute manhood. But this very notion of becoming “adult” and “sexually active” is
parodied in the final scene, where the marines walk and chant like children. Far from showing the men attaining manhood, Kubrick
calls into question the very process of military maturation and masculinization.
or not, the notion of “Mickey Mouse” also alludes to “The Shining’s” (another film filled with
mouse-in-maze references) themes of conquest and bloody history. Mickey Mouse, that pervasive symbol of Americana, conveys
the notion of American Imperialism rolling across a burning landscape. These men hold their banners high, urging everyone
to join their family as they bring “peace” and “freedom” to all. They pretend to play fair and live
in harmony, marching from coast to coast, all the while blissfully unaware of who exactly runs their club and why exactly
they’re fighting. Like Dr Bill in Eyes Wide Shut, they’re deluded, but they’re happy to be alive.
fact that Joker’s thoughts “drift back” to “regular fucking” after his short-time as a state
sanctioned rapist, is all the more creepy. The real horror is that Joker can be quickly indoctrinated as a “short timer”,
do Hartman’s bidding and then shrug it off once his tour of duty is over.
course the song also parodies all those war films which end with soldier’s singing together. “Paths of Glory”,
“A Bridge too far”, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and countless other war films end in a similar manner,
but Full Metal Jacket lacks either the overt jingoism or muted sadness of such “sing-song” endings. Instead, the
film’s coda is filled with juxtapositions: the dead marine who thinks he’s alive, the marines attaining manhood
at precisely the moment they become children and regular fuck fantasies replacing the military’s acts of “humping”
and violent “nailing”.
SNIPER AS VIETNAM
It is precisely
the “Jungian thing” that now needs to be critiqued further. There are no “archetypes” of the unconscious.
There is no “inner” precious self, dual or unified, to appeal to or to find. This is because the Subject is constitutively
split, is a Void, a “barred subject”, is, indeed, defined by the very tension of that shattered “self”
and which is why appeals to some “psychologising interior” in Kubrick's films is almost always redundant.
Kubrick is not asking the audience
to take Joker as a realist concoction and attribute to him the invisible psychological interior which would permit the viewer
to conclude that Joker shoots the little girl out of “compassion”. No, the illusion of such a depth within Joker
is not something that Kubrick has taken pains to create or sustain. Kubrick, instead, seems to be flirting with allegory and
fable, in the spirit of Brecht, forever encouraging the audience to resist that trained impulse to endow fictional characters
with a facsimile of human psychology. The astronauts in 2001 and HAL, for example, function more or less equivalently as textual
elements conveying ideological content.
In Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick
is up to something far more disquieting; he dares the audience to put that comforting, self-justifying construction - "Joker"
is an individual who commits a war crime out of “compassion” - on the stalking and murder of a rather magically,
fabulously appearing little girl they witness - a sequence of narrative wholly implausible were the diegetic plane of the
film adhering to Hollywood's standard realist mechanisms, whether of the timbre which rules MASH or that more rigid structure
governing Officer and a Gentleman.
Kubrick continually thwarts
efforts to accept his narrative as bourgeois drama. Instead, he goads his audience to desire a war crime and to react with
relief (now they too, are safe from the vengeance of the mighty little girls of Vietnam), in order to expose and poison that
pervasive ideological position to which American audiences are so inured as to be oblivious. Killing Vietnam to save it, to
put it out of its misery, was, Kubrick dares the audience to try to soothe itself, after all the only decent thing to do with
This section of the film is
romance. A pack of grown men are observed lost in the traditional wood/desert, witnessed in peril and fear, beset by an invisible,
lethal monster which permeates their environment - the landscape itself is killing them. Their fate is the concern of the
camera. The invisible monster who threatens these armed, grown men with destruction becomes visible in the form of one lost
This has no mimetic justification
- there were no 9 year old girl snipers who massacred American GIs in Vietnam. She is a metaphor for Vietnam. For the life
of Vietnam - she is like a little fée. The invaders stand around her after they wound her, though she is completely helpless,
and are still frightened and vengeful; this pretty young dying girl who had attempted to defend herself is surrounded by these
grown men incapable of recognizing even then, when the monstrous threatening force's true numbers, size and strength are revealed
to them, the asymmetry of the conflict and their own culpability.
Joker kills her because there
is no easier way to complete the sequence now that they have disabled her - they don't want to help her, they are not disposed
to repent and repair - and he manages to experience this choice as “compassionate”, just as the official US ideology
considered withdrawal compassionate and governed its forgiveness of Vietnamese wickedness and cruelty to its GIs as generous
and merciful. "Joker" the executioner who doesn't bother with gratuitous torture, who knows when enough is enough, who may
even be more frightened of the wounded child's capacity to hurt him if he turns his back on her still alive - the characters
in this film are not quite the sort endowed with faux-personal 'motivations' and we are allowed a range of interpretations
none mutually exclusive - is the official US ideology at its most self-congratulatory and beneficent. This tortured, weak
little girl is both menace and protectorate of the compassionate Pentagon, the Vietnam who has to be murdered to be saved
is neither important nor strongly implied at all. I think the film discourages the attribution of one. The narrative is opaque
in that way - no apology, no analysis, no explanation, no holding the audience hand and having a therapy session, no looking
for the moral of the story nor a lesson, no catharsis, no redemption, no revelation. Just telling an appalling narrative which
in some way captures and manages to represent an appalling history that nauseates and horrifies you. Without being sort of
methodical/forensic, it was completely destitute of the romanticism which is such a central part of the genre into which it
overtly fits. Very eccentric.
The thing I appreciate most
in Kubrick is his ability to confront randomness and meaninglessness (or highly complex over determination, which amounts
to the same thing). Without a willingness to take that in - and this is very un-American, as perhaps the most important pillar
of US regime apology is the idea that everything is secretly for the best, that everything happens for a reason, that every
cloud has a silver lining and every horror is a 'learning experience' - I'm not sure his films can be fully understood. His
brand of radical anti- spirituality is a pretty harsh experience, and the majority of his consumers I think just read it away,
just impose what they prefer.
So the “reason”
Joker murders the girl is simply because that is the truth of Vietnam. That is the truth of what happened. The US destroyed
Vietnam, rationalised their actions as being “moral” and “compassionate” and then withdrew into the
night. That's the historical content of the actions portrayed. If there is “psychological” content vis a vis the
“characters”, its ambiguous and marginal in significance at best.
VIETNAM AS GENDER WAR
Full Metal Jacket can be seen as an allegory for masculinity fighting its own losing war against the ideal of femininity. This symbolic battle is represented as the “Vietnam War”.
America, feeling strong after a period
of being the world's greatest superpower, is now under attack by an enemy that is fighting for freedom. Masculinity can be seen as America, Femininity as Vietnam, and the battle itself can be seen as a remark
on the social changes that occurred during the time period in which the boundaries between men and women were beginning to
dissolve. With the invention of the pill and the Women's Rights Movement, women
gained the same sexual freedom as men, causing power dynamics to change forever. Women
suddenly become the Other, now capable of holding off a group of salivating men with only a machine gun and her will.
The interesting bit about this particular
reading of Full Metal Jacket is the film's ending. As Kubrick films the men singing a song indicative of the 1950s Mickey
Mouse Club- back when the power dynamic favoured men and the newfound media was creating a new reality in which women were
all housewives, men wore suits, and Wally and the Beaver were favoured as perfect children despite being consistently stupid
every week -he does so in a way that would make Leni Riefenstahl blush. Kubrick
references the old Nazi propaganda film 'Triumph of the Will' and all the glorification of masculinity that takes place within
it. The only difference is that the setting now isn't a pre-WW2 Germany, but something more akin to Eliot's Waste Land. Yes, masculinity is still going along and singing a cheerful song to give the impression
that all is well, but the reality is that their world is slowly crumbling. The war will end with nothing remotely akin to 'victory'
because, in this battle, the concept of victory is silly.
Man will not win because he is acting
against his banner of liberation of freedom. In liberating Vietnam, he is repressing the Feminine. In freeing communists,
he is subjugating the woman. In this self-destructive hypocracy, Man is the very object he claims to be fighting against.
Joker realizes this at the end of the film. "I am in a world of shit, but I am lucky to be alive," he mourns. This
is the last gasp of a conflicted man, finally siding with his gender and using Hemingway-like modernism to detach himself
from the whole affair in a desperate attempt to save face. Not only is he sure
he's not going to win, he wants to make it look like he didn't care in the first place.
SUMMARY OF ACTS 2 and 3
the Vietnam portion of the film, the marines grow into adolescence. They’re erratic, confused, inexperienced. Here,
Kubrick doesn’t give us real characters. He gives us self-aware actors trapped in pre-constructed roles. Look at their
macho posturing, their stupid notions of manhood (I want to get out into the shit!), they can’t talk to one another
without puffing out their chests, putting on stale John Wayne accents and spitting out some clichéd characteristic of macho
like adolescents, they’re obsessed with sex. During this period Kubrick awakens their sexuality. It is here that the
paradoxical duality of female identities are revealed: the female prostitute and female soldier- the only collapsed down and
one-dimensional versions of femininity that the masculinized soldier can relate to. Kubrick draws parallels between the hookers
and the soldiers. Both are subjugated. Women- prostitutes in the sex trade. Soldiers- prostitutes in the war-trade. Both groups
dehumanised by the collapse of their organic identities.
Vietnam, Joker always has the naïve Rafterman at his side. Rafterman, a young, gung-ho marine, is Joker’s Jungian opposite.
He reflects the other half of Joker’s fragmented persona. While Joker wants to remain “in the rear with the gear”,
Rafterman actively wants to “go out into the shit”. He
wants to be a killer, whereby the act of killing, so sexualised by Hartman in bootcamp, is seen as a symbolic rites of passage
which ultimately leads to a marine violently attaining manhood.
Joker doesn't arrive in Vietnam a killer. He’s a passive observer, outside the marine hive. He is a journalist, an intelligent
cynic, and his evolution into military pawn is gradual. This evolution begins the night when the US base is attacked. It is
here where Joker is finally symbolically married to his gun. But the violence was well beyond the "thousand yard stare". Joker
wants to get up close and personal. He wants to go out into the shit. (Significantly, Joker doesn’t want to take Rafterman
with him. He doesn’t want to corrupt, to lose, his innocence.)
then begins a wayward search for Cowboy. He’s looking for himself. He’s searching Vietnam for his romanticized
“cowboy”, his vision of war, just like we the audience are left confused, looking for our typical war movie fix.
Looking for our hero to bravely lead us through the narrative.
finding Cowboy, Joker’s head and his heart, his left and his right, his compassion and his aggression, his intellect
and killer instinct, are wired together. He then experiences combat for the first time. He sweeps and clears a village, flushes
his Head clean, symbolically making a mental space for the military’s ideology.
is then presented with another hooker, another opportunity to fuck her, another opportunity to destroy the Feminine. This
sexual act is then represented as the stalking of the sniper.
When Joker finally confronts
the female sniper, we’re led to believe that this is the final step in the marines achieving purity. The final step
in them becoming perfect masculinized killing machines. The Child in them has been destroyed in the first act and now the
Feminine in them will be eradicated. But Kubrick exposes this duality as a myth. In war, Joker's "Jungian thing" is an irrelevant
joke. Why? Because the female sniper is as much a soldier as Joker is. She’s a hard-hearted grunt, a child, a protective
mother and a beautiful woman. There is no one-dimensional archetype here. No mythical “Feminine Other” to be eradicated.
Joker intends as a compassionate mercy killing to ease the girl’s pain, is thus then suddenly mirrored onto Pyle’s
suicide in the first third of the film. Hence: soldier killing self.
killing the sniper isn't only him “rejecting the feminine”, it’s a suicidal act identical to Pyles.
The result is that Joker is transformed into yet another war zombie with a “war face and thousand yard stare”.
It is at this moment that Joker is “Born to Kill”. He symbolically explodes and is given his fiery rebirth, his
“dual personality” becoming further fragmented. He is now Animal Mother, the remorseless killer, Rafterman, the
Child capable of murder and Joker, the effeminate intellectual, able to rationalise death as compassion. Joker has resolved
a FALSE CONFLICT, intentionally created or set up in him by the logics of war and military indoctrination. Killing the sniper,
becoming a “killing machine”, resolves Joker’s conflict. Hence the feeling of uplift. But it is a sociopathic
blood-lust that is being reinforced, along with the destruction of the unity of Joker’s Self.
Joker, of course, achieves a new “unity”: a false masculine self- a fully-paid-up member of Mother Green and Her
Killing Machine. Joker has achieved what the military wanted him to achieve, and he’s happy with that.
the other Marines, Joker had no base instinct for revenge. He’s a journalist, not a killer. When he initially tried
to kill the sniper (a young female grunt- literally Infantile, Female and Hard), Joker finds himself impotent. His big gun
jammed and he had to be rescued by Rafterman, the only other new guy in the group. Note that when Rafterman downs the sniper
there’s a long panning shot that tracks him across the room as he behaves and speaks in an exaggerated manner. In Kubrick’s
script there is even a line saying “Rafterman is now a super-grunt”. Essentially, in this scene, both “new
guys” in the unit have been transformed. The outsiders are internalised. With the transformation of Rafterman and Joker,
the group is complete. The entire mind space has been colonised. The journalists have been converted.
spends Vietnam protecting himself with his false understanding of “the duality of man”. Like a kid weaned on war
films, he saw a distinction between the Sergeant Elias’ and the Sergeant Barnes’ (Platoon), a simple distinction
between good and evil. But when the time comes to choose a side, Joker is powerless to find a correct answer. And this is
the true “duality” represented by the film. Joker went through training believing that his intelligence and aloof
irony guarded him from the military’s thought reform. He was aware that it was all “just business”, that
the whole facade of Vietnam was false. But now, here he is, presented with a choice between compassion and violence and he
finds, suddenly, that they’re one and the same.
that, especially in our current political climate, is the irony of all wars. We invade under the guise of compassion. We slaughter
our enemies and pretend to be civilized. We shave our soldiers bald, robbing them of freedom, so that we may live in freedom
instead. This is the truth of war, and our enemies are just as multifaceted; are just as human.
Metal Jacket, like a sharp bullet to the skull, homes in on these myths and shatters them with precision. War is a patriarchal
institution, and only those people/soldiers whose identity conforms with patriarchy’s definition of masculinity will
thrive and “survive” it. Furthermore, war perpetuates patriarchy, along with its lapdogs, the masculinized soldier.
The film’s final shot itself, convincingly portrays that it is the institutions of patriarchy which use military life
and war as a mechanism for reinforcing the myth of the dangers of the feminine and the blissful brotherhood of the “Club”.
And so Joker walks off with his brothers, mistakenly viewing himself to be out of sync
with the group. He is with them, but, as Kubrick implies with reverse shots, he is capable of walking alone. Thus even someone
intelligent like Joker, is susceptible to thought reform. Everyone can be conditioned. The military wants recruits who will
ultimately maintain the necessary distance between fantasy and rationality, between total identification, or non-ironic, dismissal.
Joker specifically says this during the film’s narration (“The Marine Corps does not want robots!”). They
don't want Pyles, they want Jokers. Joker, unlike Pyle, successfully keeps his distance. He's the only one in the group to
become a journalist instead of infantryman. What's frightening is that he never viewed himself as part of the system, which
was actually systematically moulding him and gradually drawing him further in. And it is precisely this detachment, which
allows him to be an efficiently functioning, unknowing slave to ideology, but without fatally destroying himself at the same
PYLE'S EVOLUTION: CHILD to ADOLESCENCE to DEATH INCARNATE.
JOKER'S EVOLUTION: ADULT to ADOLESCENCE to CHILD
Okay, so why is the film disjointed? Why is the narrative so loose and unsatisfying? Well it’s not loose. It’s
only a twenty-five minute period that people complain about. But because all the little vignettes within that period are so
arbitrary and lack focus, they have a disorienting effect.
On the surface it makes no logical sense, but the narrative mirrors exactly what you
(the audience) and the marine unit are going through. We spend the first forty minutes in boot camp, an understandably strict
and rigid place, where all traces of the feminine are eradicated. Pure, lean, super men are created. In response, what does
Kubrick do to his narrative? It’s likewise tight and lean. What does he do with his actors and characters? They’re
also rigid and disciplined. What does he do with the landscape? Narrow corridors and straight walls. What about the music?
It’s the same. Repetitive and very disciplined. With Kubrick, form is always content.
Every aspect of the film, from screenplay to music to camera to narrative, has been
subjected to this very rigid, military stance. We spend forty minutes with this group as they morph into killers. They become
a well-oiled unit, and so does the film.
So what causes this "lean narrative" to collapse? What causes the marine’s training
to disintegrate and fall apart?
Two things: the destruction of the Head and the reappearance of the Feminine. Hartman is
killed in the bathroom and suddenly this group of soldiers malfunctions as a whole. The HEAD has been destroyed, severed,
decapitated, and the body loses focus. Before he is shot, Sgt Hartman even says "what is your major malfunction, solider?"
Effectively, the military brain of this body has been destroyed and replaced with Joker’s more fragmented Mind. Add
to that the sudden appearance of woman (the whore) and the marines are suddenly free of their thought reform.
So suddenly this group is broken. But like a shockwave, this destruction is transferred
everywhere. Kubrick takes this destruction and applies it to EVERY aspect of Full Metal Jacket. Every aspect of the filmmaking
process in general. Every tiny detail has been subjected to this malfunction, the film becoming increasingly deconstructed
until we get to the point where the film ceases to be a film, the marines addressing the audience directly.
So during Vietnam, the narrative becomes loose and increasingly informal. Kubrick symbolises
this onscreen by beginning the second third of the film with a CAMERA BEING STOLEN. Symbolically, the rigid, military camera
of the first forty minutes of the film has been taken away. Now how do his characters act? Well, they become loose and informal.
Their hair has grown back and their shirts are always un-tucked. There is no discipline, there is no narrative focus, there
is no dramatic focus. Even the script becomes wayward and untrained.
In an interview during the film’s premiere, Kubrick said he wanted to explode
the narrative of film, and that’s exactly what he does. The story has collapsed completely. The characters even refer
to themselves being trapped in "Vietnam the movie". What about the music? WOOLY BULLY? What the hell is that? Even the musical
choices seemingly now make no sense. Everything is un-structured and chaotic. Every single aspect in the first 40 minutes,
has been reversed. Heck, even Private SnowBall (white) has morphed in Private Eightball (black).
Pyle malfunctioned, the characters malfunctioned, the script malfunctioned, the narrative
malfunctioned, the music malfunctioned, the dialogue malfunctioned…it all falls apart. Just as The Shining’s maze
like narrative mirrors the story, Kubrick's film language has once again become it's content.
During the final third of the film, Kubrick
RE-ASSEMBLES everything. The carefully constructed masculinity of these marines is assaulted by a mere woman. The soldiers
retaliate and suddenly the script pulls itself together, the characters pull themselves together, the narrative pulls itself
together, the music pulls itself together. . .everything is pulled together.
FIRST ACT: Narrative lean, ordered and precise.
SECOND ACT: Narrative gradually self destructs, proceeding from the circular Vietnamese
roundabout, to roughly twenty minutes of aimless wandering, to two documentary sequences (precisely timed to coincide with
combat) in which the cast break the third wall and directly address the audience, to the marines finally sitting outside a
theatre, as their film plays behind them. They have evolved from self-aware actors to figures literally outside their movie,
no longer taking part in their own narrative.
THIRD ACT: Narrative once again, lean, ordered and precise.
THE MECHA LIFE CYCLE
Padraig L Henry
The masculinized female sniper, serves as
the marines' final denouement, a devastating contradiction of, and challenge to, all of their masculinized assumptions about
the women-as-prostitutes gender role and status. "The Vietcong sniper symbolizes Joker's earlier comments about Jungian duality,"
argues Tony Williams in "Narrative Patterns and Mythic Trajectories in Mid-1980's Vietnam Movies." Not quite, however: Kubrick
shows, in the sniper scene, that such dualities are a myth, are mere cultural constructions, that the distinctions between
masculine and feminine are in fact utterly false. The fact that the sniper is female and that Joker delivers the shot that
finally kills her can, at a first cursory analysis, be taken to mean that, in killing the female sniper, Joker takes a further
step toward purification and self-mutilation and, therefore, towards further masculinization. But the female sniper is also
a soldier, is, like Joker, a masculinized hard-heart grunt. Women too can be masculine. The killing of the sniper, therefore,
like Pyle's earlier actual suicide, is not merely an act of further "rejecting the feminine" but is itself a suicidal act.
Instead of the simplistic "Ain't war hell!?" leveraged conclusion of most war films, Kubrick challenges us with his filmic
deconstruction of "Ain't war suicidal!?"
But there is more, much more to this kaleidoscopic,
multi-layered film: The above cultural, gendered identity dynamics serve to further propel the film's scope into a larger,
greater, more comprehensive commentary on American imperialism. Ultimately, Kubrick depth-charges rock-solid the unification
of the film's narrative structure and its substantive thematic deconstructions with, perhaps, what is one of the most subtle,
the most arresting, tour de force cinematic and analytical "sting in the tails" in film history, in a film which is itself
a strong contender for being the singular, greatest-ever war film: The film's apparently dualistic -bootcamp/Vietnam - narrative
structure is itself deconstructed by Kubrick, who exposes it too as a myth, as a further convenient cultural construction.
The film, at all levels, graphically testifies to the realisation that bootcamp and war are continuous with the rest of American
culture. There is no phony "duality". American imperialism begins at home, with the patriarchal colonisation of the Self,
and only then proceeds to the onwards marching frontier, with the colonisation of the Other, all that is foreign ("Outside
every gook there is an American trying to get in.").
Full Metal Jacket is a film about how war
steals childhood and adolescent life away, and replaces it all with one constructed by the most extreme of society's patriarchal
institutions, replacing the natural with the institutional, substituting a patriarchal mother for a natural one. Mecha for
A film about how this whole suicidal life
cycle ultimately destroys - if not the body - the soul, the heart, the spirit, only for it to be reborn and then for the whole
miserable process to start all over again, history stubbornly repeating itself.
CHILDHOOD: from birth - marine-recruit infants re-learning how to pee and tie their boots - to puberty - Pyle's
"erection", his rifle, engaging in premature ejaculation in the Head (Pyle
engaging in an infertile homoerotic deadly
embrace with his rifle - a suicidal embrace - the made marine experiencing death at puberty, after masturbating his rifle at
Hartman's heart, who stole his soul) and Joker's erection while mop-cleaning the Head, talking to Cowboy about Pyle's
rifle and expressing a desire to insert his "tubesteak" into Cowboy's sister, foreshadowing the trading of rifles for erections.
ADOLESCENCE: awkward, erratic, confused, inexperienced, this stage depicts the marine's walkabout search for
their full metal identity, their "get in the shit" notions of heroic manhood, their macho posturings, their sarcasm - all
of these confined to this stage and all near-universal characteristics of adolescence. From the very first image - of a scantily
clad woman (a prostitute, a mature but infertile sex machine, for there are no teenage girls in a warzone, only whores and
soldiers), a pubescent boy's wet dream, but a scene of total marine-recruit incompetence - to the final image of the inexperienced
Cowboy, beside a dead Crazy Earl (killed by the childhood sentiments and prelapsarian longings of the hardened grunt), now
promoted to Squad leader. Notice how Kubrick, in this and other stages of the film, gradually kills off the "command structure":
first - in bootcamp - Hartman, then - in Vietnam - Lieutenant Touchdown and Crazy Earl, and finally, at Maturity, Cowboy and
(spiritually) Joker, now directly unified with Mother Green
MATURITY (Death and ReBirth): the full metal
jacketing of the film's title, the suicidal transcendence into hard core masculinity and the death of the soul. Joker's killing
of the sniper transports him from the stunted adolescence of Rafterman into the thousand-yard-stare, hard-heart grunt world
of "reborn" Animal Mother.
What I found particularly startling about
this Mecha Life Cycle narrative Triad is that it fits like a glove all of the existing credible (and a few incredible) analyses
of Full Metal Jacket’s sub-themes and sub-texts: the cultural construction of masculinity (its zealous definition and
fanatical purification through externalised feminine rejection, and so, through self-mutilation), masculinity's illusory basis
(women can be masculine, as the female grunt sniper demonstrated), mature feminine prostitutes (male or female) as "reborn"
infertile sex machines equated and contrasted with mature/immature masculine soldiers (male or female) as "reborn" infertile
killing machines, the colonisation of Self by the all-pervasive tentacles of patriarchy, the colonised-Self then colonising
the Other (for traces of the former Self), the territorial psychology of Imperialism, the institutional and psychological
processes by which history (American and European) repeats itself, the psychology of conditioning, the insecure nature of
institutional "religion" and dogma, the frightening power of unchecked, misappropriated sexuality, the seductive power
of technology (and humans' predilection for fetishising it), duality - heart/head, peace/war, pure/shit, persona/shadow,
self/other, body/spirit, hard/soft, good/bad, Kubrick/Spielberg, etc, as a core life force (dualities always resolving themselves
by constructing yet more dualities, for better or worse), Jungian and Freudian psychology, etc.
You see, all of these existing insights (discussed
at length in numerous academic papers and book chapters on Full Metal Jacket) become radically enriched when they can all
coherently hitch themselves on to a unifying surface narrative, something none of them had, in fact, attempted to do.
SOME NOTES ON THE CAMERA’S THREE SHIFTS IN POINT OF VIEW:
Joker starts off as an anonymous narrator, resists training and finally becomes
a reporter, but the change is not in the character but in the camera's eye itself. During the first third of the film, we’re
not even sure Joker is the main character. He’s given little dialogue, is never given a real name and shares equal screen
time with many of the other minor characters. By the second third of the movie the camera is internal and part of the solider
group. We're carried along with Rafterman's Polaroid camera as we progress (the second act features the theft and reacquisition
of a stills-camera), but just when the camera completes the transformation and LITERALLY becomes a reporter with the interviews
(we're no longer taking photos of troops, we're actually speaking to them now), we're into the last third of the film. Here
Joker actually looks us in the eye. He's looking at us and it's our choice. We're not taking photos of soldiers anymore, we're
not interviewing them, we're looking right at them. We the narrator decide whether to shoot or not.
DUALISM IN FULL METAL JACKET
In Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick provides the voice for Sergeant Murphy. Early in the film, Murphy crouches behind
a tank, yanks out a phone and yells, “Delta Six Actual, this is Murphy, over. We’re receiving incoming fire from
the Ville. The Lieutenant is down. We’re going to stop here and check out what’s in front of us. Over”
third act of the film, the situation is reversed and Murphy is on the other end of the line. Here Cowboy says, “Hotel
One Actual, this is Cowboy, over. Murph, Crazy’s hit.”
then responds, “You’re in charge. Call in at the next checkpoint. Over.”
act 2, Crazy Earl inherits command of the Lusthogs when Lt Touchdown is killed. Kubrick then calls the tanks and informs them
that the Lusthogs will proceed ahead and check out the area.
3, however, Cowboy inherits command of the LustHogs when Crazy Earl is killed. Cowboy then calls Kubrick’s tank and
is ordered to proceed ahead to the next checkpoint.
Rewatching the film, I'm surprised how many reversals there are
like this. Even the film's tagline is a dualism and sex reference ("in Vietnam, the wind doesn't blow [forward], it sucks
The second half of Full Metal Jacket is packed with such dual motions and clever reversals. Our two
journalists are always travelling in one direction, whilst columns of people, stretchers or vehicles, travel in the opposite
direction. These opposing movements are present in virtually all scenes. This notion of simultaneous dual motions is only
abandoned when the marines are focussed on combat. At this moment, their opposing dualities are reconciled and they fixate
of this is a montage scene prior to Crazy Earl's death (he picks up a booby trapped toy). The marines are seen walking from
the right to the left, but using reverse shots, Joker and Rafterman are always seen to be walking left to right. Only after
Crazy Earl dies, does Joker march in synch with the others. Only in times of combat does he gel with the group.
the "Mickey Mouse Chant" at the end of the film, Joker is likewise out of synch with the rest of the men. The marines march
from left to right, but when Kubrick cuts to Joker, we get a reverse shot of Joker marching right to left. The film then ends
with a different shot of the entire hive walking forward into the night.
the famous "shadow goof" in Full Metal Jacket? We see the shadow of the camera crew's helicopter travelling right to left
before Kubrick cuts to a reverse shot of completely different helicopter (a UH34D) travelling from left to right. We then
get a POV shot of the helicopter travelling forward, the landscape rushing by beneath us.
later, when Joker talks to Lt Touchdown (after himself touching down), a helicopter does the same left-right-forward-march
pattern in the sky. It travels to the left, then to the right, and then directly ahead. This notion of forward motion, despite
conflicting dualities (left/right), seems to be present throughout the film. Now think back to Kubrick's cameo, where the
players are switched from "left to right", but the notion of "continuing ahead" remains constant. Joker himself pretends to
be aware of some “inner duality” without realising that he is being lured forward toward a specific fate.
LIST OF DUALITIES IN THE FILM:
The extent to which these dualities
are embedded into the film is really quite staggering. While "Barry Lyndon" is characterized by the zoom, and "The Shining"
by the maze and steadicam, "Full Metal Jacket" is obsessed with dualism. Every aspect of the film has this sort of duality.
Here is a list of some examples:
1. “Hello Vietnam” - “These boots are made for walking”. “Hello
Vietnam” a song which speaks of “stopping communism”, is contrasted with the feminist anthem, “These
Boots are made for walking”, foreshadowing the empowerment of the sniper and the Vietnamese.
Hartman - Lt Lockhart
- Animal Mother
(Joker) - Father (Hartman)
to Kill – Peace button
is my rifle - this is my gun
off like you’ve got a pair
(white) – Eightball (black)
of shit - Military’s obsession with purification. This notion of physical and ideological cleanliness is contrasted
with the scatological, "world of shit" obsession of the film. There are hundreds of references to faeces, shit, waste, turds,
stains, guys being "wasted", suppositories, toilets, bathrooms, flushing and heads being psychologically "flushed" out. This
contrasts with the countless references to cleaning, polishing, "sweep and clearing", deodorant, toothpaste, Perfume Rivers,
sparkly teeth and mopping.
boot camp, Kubrick uses “left to right” compositions to highlight the traditional way in which we process information.
This is the method of indoctrination used by Hartman on his boys. Hartman, the symbolic Father, uses a tough, dispassionate,
indoctrination approach on Pyle. Joker, however, uses a far more compassionate “right to left” approach when teaching
Wayne – Bruce Lee
first time we see a hooker, she walks away from the camera whilst the second time we see a hooker she walks toward camera.
The motorcycle in the first whore scene also “leaves with a camera” whilst the motorcycle in the second whore
scene “arrives with the hooker”.
daytime tracking shot along the base which features marines travelling left and right and playing ball is contrasted with
the nighttime reverse shot of the marines all running toward combat.
external "peaceful" tracking shot of the base is contrasted with the internal "chaotic" tracking shot of the base.
first of Lockhart's briefings is relatively peaceful, while the second has a table filled with helmets, flak jackets and guns.
helicopter scene with the "crazy gunner" was supposed to be contrasted with another, but Kubrick deleted a second helicopter
sequence to shorten the film's running time.
23. Crazy Earl is jokingly assigned the role of "General Custer" in the film. General
Custer, the archetypal frontiers’ man, was killed by Indian Chief Crazy Horse in 1876. So here we have one character,
Crazy Earl, representing a merging of dualities, a merging of General Custer and Crazy Horse, each a victim of the other’s
implicitly states that he is "alive" but we know that he is also now "dead".
Island – Vietnam
sings the childish "Mickey Mouse song" an act with ironically contrasts with him "finally attaining manhood".
shot in heart, Pyle shot in head – Sniper shot in heart by Rafterman and in the head by Joker.
physical suicide – Joker’s spiritual suicide.
for war – praying for death
occur in pairs: example, two documentary sequences, two suicide sequences, two combat sequences, two helicopter sequences
(one deleted), two briefings with Lockhart etc.
tough – crazy brave
shoulder – right shoulder
directions: While marines travel up an obstacle, others are travelling down the other side. While marines travel left in the
foreground, other marine travel right in the background. Likewise, reverse shots used to convey the feeling that Joker is
out of sync with the herd.
night scenes at Paris Island, two Head scenes in Paris island etc.
leg over the left, right lace over the left…
filled with dualism references: Steers and queers, one for the commandant, one for the Corps etc.
film’s tagline: “In Vietnam the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks”.
film’s trailer, similarly dualistic in nature.
film’s poster: Peace and war both in the head (helmet).
of Love”, a song that counterpoints the “pagan” cease-fire festivities with a tune about a Christian ceremony.
a bird that delivers babies – Stork, a marine who talks about rape.
Tet Offensive is itself a duality of sorts, being a countrywide war that took place on a day of nationally recognised ceasefire.
This is an incomplete list, but Kubrick infuses the entire film with such contrasts,
juxtapositions and dualism references.
KUBRICK, RELIGION AND MIND CONTROL
“It is a fallacy that intellectual awareness (Joker) of what is happening can always prevent a man from being indoctrinated.
Once he becomes exhausted and suggestible, or the brain enters the "paradoxical" or "ultra-paradoxical" phases, insight can
be disturbed; even the knowledge of what to expect may be of little help in warding off breakdown. And afterwards, he will
rationalize the newly-implanted beliefs and offer his friends sincere and absurd explanations of why his attitude has changed
so suddenly."- Dr. William
Sargent (author of Battle for the Mind)
"It takes a sane person to be brainwashed. Only the exceptional or mentally ill person
(Pyle) is likely to resist over very long
periods. It is only the lunatic who can be so impervious to suggestion."- Dr. William Sargent (author of Battle for the Mind)
Several readers have asked what is the significance of the Jesus picture featured prominently in the second “primer
Throughout the film, Kubrick draws parallels
between religious indoctrination and military indoctrination. Signs throughout the barracks make reference to prayer time
and Catholic sermons, the marines are ordered to pray to their guns and worship the Virgin Mary, Hartman prepares the boys
to be "minister's of death, praying for war!", the marine’s goal is to be baptized and "born again hard" and they are
constantly told that they are doing God's will.
Later, Private Joker is asked whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. Joker says that he does not. He is outside the
hive. He is a free thinker, atheist and cynic, and it is his ability to think independently that leads to his promotion.
So the film makes numerous parallels between religious cults and the military. Ultimately, Kubrick sees all religious
and political organisations as detrimental to the individual’s freedom and individuality. Hence the second act begins
with Joker standing above Jesus’ picture. Standing above the military and standing above religion and cult like activity.
His aloofness is highlighted in that shot. He thinks he is outside the system and literally above it all.
"Private Joker, do you believe in the Virgin Mary?"
"SIR NO SIR!"
"I don't believe I heard you correctly!"
"SIR, THE PRIVATE SAID, NO SIR!"
"Why you little maggot, you make me want to vomit!"
"You Goddamn communist heathen, you had best sound off that you love the Virgin Mary or
I'm gonna stomp your guts out! Now you DO love the Virgin Mary, don't you?"
"SIR, NEGATIVE, SIR!"
The military, religion and destructive religious cults all use various brainwashing techniques on their members. These
coercive tactics range from subtle to extreme, depending on the group. Nowadays, the word “brainwashing” conjures
up too many negative and false impressions. People think “brainwashing” involves creating zombies or robots. That
is not true. It’s far subtler. Nowadays professionals prefer to use the terms “coercive mind control” or
The constant activity, chanting, rituals, repetition, mental, aural and physical rhythms, prayers, high pressure situations,
isolation, sensory overload, protein diets, and intense indoctrination, are all forms of coercion which lull the recruit into
a trance like state of blind acceptance. These organisations aim to lower your critical thinking and instil a state blind
Most current new religious movements (Moonies, COG etc) use the same coercive mind control and grooming techniques
that the military is portrayed as using in this film. Hence all the religious references and Jesus symbols/paintings. The
chanting, constant activity, praying to guns, acts of ritual and repetition aren’t dissimilar to the religious "brainwashing"
you find in most cults.
Most religious people or cult members won't admit they've been "brainwashed" into joining their group. God made them
join, they say. They claim to now be better, more moral people. Similarly, most Marines will tell you that they joined wilfully.
The Core forged them into a better, more moral and responsible person, they say.
Marines like to rationalise their involvement with the Core, saying they joined because they needed "discipline".
But really they signed up for the same reason people get seduced by religious recruiters. They seek direction, meaning and
hope (or money, in the case of low income families). Military recruiters, just like cult recruiters, prey on basic human needs.
Since the Korean war, underground New Religious Movements (most NRMS are Asian) in the US and UK have been adopting
militaristic recruitment and grooming practises. You speak to a cult member and it's like speaking to a soldier. Cult members
regard one another as "brothers and sisters", echoing the strong sense of "brotherhood" that the military instils. Of course
these religious groups are so "below the radar" that most people don't know of them, unless they have had the unfortunate
experience of having a family member or friend join. I have a friend who joined a Korean cult 2 years ago and he's no longer
the same person. He's literally been brainwashed into a drone like person, cutting himself off from his family and worshiping
an old man who he believes is God.
But Kubrick's point is simply that the Marine Corps adopts a posture akin to a religious cult. It creates a hive mind,
isolates the group from the community and sets about indoctrinating the group. Once the group is ready, it's set free to do
the leader's bidding.
In religious cults, the group is usually brainwashed to recruit and groom specific, susceptible individuals. The hive
thus grows exponentially. You recruit and train individuals to recruit and train individuals, until you have an army.
In a cult, it's an army of God. In the marines, it's an army of Country. And if you study these things, you'd note
that these individuals are always of a specific psychological type. Young, in their late teens or early twenties and going
through some personal turmoil. That's why most religious cult members are young females, whilst most marine cadets are young
Of course the mind control tactics used by the marines (constant repetition, high pressure, rituals, chanting, sleep
depravation, sensory control etc) are all done for his benefit. Without this kind of training, you're dead on the battlefield.
The question the film asks, though, is whether there's something exploitative in this relationship. Does the Marine get more
out of his training than the military gets out of him? Of course, a marine will say yes.
I personally do not believe this. I believe what a Marine gets out of the Core is the same a Catholic or a religious
cult member gets out of his religious institution. A sense of hope, direction and confidence that was really within themselves
all along. These groups exploit your weaknesses, in order to give you strength. But the stregth is not real
and does not exist outside the group.
On the flip side, the Core can
and does square you up and make you a better person. Volunteering is not always an abdication of “self” to the
system. What Kubrick sees as people surrendering power, Marines will see differently. They see it as having gained more power
through the skills they've learned, and the truths they learned about themselves. The Marine is far stronger mentally and
emotionally because of his experiences. Yes, they had to go through some rough patches to gain that strength, but that’s
what was necessary for them to come into their own and find their power. It’s what a lot of people need to find themselves,
which is why they go that route. There’s no one route to self-discovery and empowerment.
I do not believe that Kurbick believes in this sort of "empowerment", though. He sees Marines as whores, used and
discarded. His real concern is the misuse of this individual's will and the exploitative nature of it all. The marine
gets a false sense of purpose and morality. Like cult members who think they are doing the moral will of God, the Marine thinks
he is giving himself up to a system greater than himself. But in reality the Marine is often exploited, his empowerment misused
by the corrupt few who lord over him.