Sidetracks: The Key to FMJ

22 08 2008

Really good observations about FMJ, from IMDB thread. I think tieman64 gives me a key to — if not like — at least appreciate the movie.  

by tieman64 (Mon Jul 7 2008 )
(…)We expect war movies to firstly introduce us to their characters and then to subject us to “war as hell”. Most war films follow this pattern.

“Full Metal Jack” does the opposite. Instead of introducing us to individuals, it is about removing all individuality. The soldiers become drones. They’re then placed in “hell” (Vietnam), only the “hell” they expect, and get, is an anectodal deconstruction of war-movie myths (welcome to Vietnam the movie!). The real “hell” begins when the marines, sitting on cinema seats and watching outwards at the very film they’re in, escape through the doors behind them. From here on, the flames rise and the landscape changes.

A typical war film introduces us to it’s cast and then develops these characters. But the military (and Full Metal Jacket) spends time breaking men down. Instead of being introduced to the soldiers, we see the soldiers striped down to one dimentional entitites. They become one body. We don’t get closer to them. They get further away from us.

We don’t even know Joker is the main character until we reach Vietnam. It’s then that we realise that Joker has survived the indoctrination process. He’s the only one who’s retained his individuality. Everyone else is alien to us.

A typical war film then sends it’s characters into hell, where they witness the “horror”, but FMJ sends it’s characters into a shapeless, anectodal landscape which gradually devolves into a film within a film. There is no horror here. The high tech marines roll through Vietnam, killing from a distance. Kubrick goes to great lengths to film all the violence in this section with an impersonal touch. None of the deaths are exciting, horrific or adrenaline pumping. They’re all at a distance. Sanitized. Empty.

The film treats Vietnam as more of a transitionary state than a real place. It’s a psychological wasteland in which the marine unit bumbles about, confused. The marine group only becomes fully formed when the two reporters (Rafterman and Joker) are symbollically converted into killers and then absorbed into the group.

As the film progresses, you begin to notice that the whole film is structured around duality or opposites. This is for fighting, this is for fun. Left, right. Male, female. Hearts, minds. Peace, war. Baby, man. God, country. Tense, wayward. This is my rifle, this is my gun. Cohesion, chaos. Pvt Snowball (white), Pvt Eightball (black). Military music, nonsensical music. Rigid camera, wayward camera. Brother, sister…etc etc. Every detail is paired off and opposed. Part 1 ends with Pyle claiming that he is in a “world of sh*t” and Hartman bursting in with “What is this Mickey Mouse sh*t?” which is then mirrored to Part 3 ending with the soldiers singing the Mickey Mouse club song, and Joker claiming that HE is in a “world of sh*t”.

So the film is very deliberalty structured and quite challenging. Part 1 can be viewed as being about the dynamics of violence within a state, whilst Part 2 is about the violence or chaos between states. Part 1 is tightly structured, with the linearity of a war machine’s intention, whereas Part 2 is looser, reflecting the chaotic effects of war and the psychological confusion of the marines.

by marcolopolis25 (Mon Jul 7 2008 ) 

(…) The one thing that stood out for me was that Joker personified this duality, while everyone else broke down into being brainwashed and becoming uniform.

Peace symbol and Born to Kill.

In the first part he was the only one who wasn’t afraid to express his opinion and stick to it (the mother Mary part). By this he gained respect. 

With all this said, I need to see it again.

by tieman64 (Tue Jul 8 2008 )
Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”, Charlie in “Platoon”, Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan”, Michael J Fox in “Casualties of War”…these are all clean cut faces we can relate to. They’re ordinary heroic guys, trust into madness.

Joker, however, is a hard character to get a grasp of. In everything he does and says, he maintains an ironic distance. He has to in order to survive. Joker sees through the bullsh*t. Nothing phases him because he’s surrounded by brainwashed slaves to the state. So to Kubrick, “survival” doesn’t mean “not getting hit by bullets”, it means retaining your freedom of will.

In one scene, Animal Mother, sniffs Joker out like a dog. “You seen any combat?” he asks. Joker then quickly puts on his false John Wayne persona, puffing out his chest. He’s not a killer, but to retain his sense of self, he needs to assume this false jacket. It keeps everyone off his back.

Hartman: “A reporter? You think you’re Mickey Spillane? You’re a killer!”
Joker: “A killer! Yes sir!”

Joker is an outsider who’s trying to resist becoming part of the group. He’s an external observer, whilst the group wants to absorb him, internalise him and turn him into a obedient killer. This is why the second half begins with the symbollic stealing of a camera. Firstly, Kubrick’s rigid military camera style is stollen, and secondly, Joker now has to find a replacement. But will he choose camera or gun?

So we rarely catch glimpses of the real Joker. He’s a cynical, sarcastic trickster, always dancing with his Shadow.

Secondly, Joker isn’t a character at all. He is symbollic of the cynical, self aware aspects of the marine group. The marine want hypermasculinized killers. Once they symbollically kill off their infantile qualities (Pyle), intellectual qualities (Joker) and their father (Hartman) and mother’s feminine qualities (Sniper- “how can you shoot women and children?), they become one dimentional killers free to be used by the state (Who’s the leader of this club that’s made for you and me?).

You say the film is not “emotional”, and you’re right to an extent. It’s not conventionally emotional. I think the only 2 base emotions Kubrick wants us to feel are:

1. To feel sad over the loss of Pyle and Joker (Both suicide, one symbollically, one literally)
2. To feel a sense of revenge. Or rather he wants us to understand that the violence towards Pyle and the violence toward the sniper are a form of primal vengeance and payback (relax, it’s just business).

The rest of the emotions in the film have a sort of cold, intellectual edge. I find the film more emotional when I think of it in terms of A Clockwork Orange. In ACO a rapist and killer is brainwashed into being peaceful. In FMJ, peaceful guys are brainwashed into rapists and killers. Both films are about the removal of free will. Both films end wit the state controling and using these killers. Throughout the film, Joker keeps his freedom. He’s not a slave to anyone. But in the end, it’s quite sad and creepy to see someone smart and clever nevertheless succomb to the powers of the state.

Anyway PantomLord, all your points about the film are valid, but they’re not flaws, their deliberate decisions made to get you questioning the film. I’m just writing this to maybe get you to think about the film differently next time you see it.


by Toby_gibson002 (Mon Jul 14 2008 )
Wow. Nice summing up of this movie. I agree with a lot of what’s been said here to the positive towards Full Metal Jacket, and some of the negative I understand what they’re talking about but I just really liked this movie. 

This movie was just another story to me until I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”. Upon recognizing some similarities between Dispatches and my recollections of Full Metal Jacket I came back here and wasn’t all that surprised to find that Herr was credited with some of the screenplay. I think they probably based a lot of this on his book and built a cohesive screenplay around it.

All I can say is read the book. Herr was a war correspondent- not the kind who went to the embassy at 5 every evening to dictate the sanitized version of what was happening- he was the kind who was “in the *beep* as they refer to it in F.M.J. His writings on this really gets you right down in the mud and the madness, and he has the rye sense of humor that they gave to Joker. You don’t have to have a degree to get this *beep* Anal thermometers have degrees and you know what you can do with those. 😉

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