Late to the Major Malfunction! A review of Full Metal Jacket

[Editor's note: One of the reasons why I was able to enjoy this movie so much is because I was able to avoid spoilers for my entire life. I don't want to spoil any movies for anyone, so please avoid this post if you haven't seen Full Metal Jacket.]

Prologue by Kevin Baker

Pvt Joker: Leonard, if Hartman comes in here and catches us, we’ll both be in a world of shit.  

 Pvt Pyle: I AM in a world…..of shit.

Pvt Pyle in Full Metal Jacket

Based on the powerful novel The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket is essential viewing in the pantheon of Hollywood-ized Vietnam. I first saw this when I was 13 and have watched it dozens of times since. Being a former Marine machine gunner much like Animal Mother, this film takes me back to the boot camp experience I had and the fear and respect I had for my drill instructors.

There is no telling how many young men and women joined the Marines just because of this movie alone– especially after viewing R Lee Ermey’s unparalleled performance. I mean, who wouldn’t want such a funny guy screaming in their faces for (what is now) a 13 week course? (Of course, the Senior Drill Instructor doesn’t actually spend that much time with recruits. It’s actually a team of 4 or 5 DIs together, but that’s just a minor issue with the film.) My favorite line was when Hartman asked Pyle if his parents had any other children that lived. It is hilarious how much drill instructors work at their craft with serious off-the-hook comments that I couldn’t come up with in a million years. Or maybe my favorite is Payback’s line, “Joker ain’t never been in the shit. He thinks “The Bad Bush” is between old mama-san’s legs,” that really makes the Marine in me smile.

On a “WHAT? You haven’t seen _____?!?” scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest level of shock, disappointment and sad), Full Metal Jacket gets a 8. Knowing that her father is a huge Kubrick fan I was surprised to hear that she hadn’t seen it before now.


LTTM review:

My past movie viewings have definitely been influenced by my parents’ tastes, which is why it makes no sense that I’ve never seen Full Metal Jacket. My dad is a HUGE Kubrick fan. I think he assumed that I had seen it (and many others… I’ve only seen 2001, Lolita, The Shining and a few minutes of Eyes Wide Shut before I stabbed myself in the leg) and when I told him I was watching it for the first time for this blog, I think he was a little upset with me.

When I think of the types of movies I want to watch on a rainy day, war movies aren’t really up at the top of the list. I was nervous about watching this movie because war movies are always traumatic and very emotional, and I feel so awful watching them because I’ve never experienced anything like it…and I feel guilty watching it for my enjoyment. But between my dad’s love for the movie and the fact that my boyfriend is a Marine, it was fairly clear I needed to suck it up and see it.

This movie didn’t trigger my emotions as much as my first viewing of Saving Private Ryan a few months ago. But I did think it was incredible. I have to mention that I was extremely surprised at everything that happened with Pvt Pyle and his drill instructor. I had gotten the impression that he was the main protagonist throughout the entire film, and when he shoots the drill instructor and then himself I really thought it was a dream. I’m so glad that the movie had never been spoiled for me because it was such a shock, and I love it when a movie can affect me like that. I definitely preferred the first half of the movie to the second half because my emotions were all over the map, from cheering on Pvt Pyle to laughing at the Drill Instructor to freaking out after the scene in the bathroom (the Head, as Kevin tells me). Combat scenes always confuse me a little bit, but I still thought the second half was well done and everything that happened with Cowboy and later the Vietnamese sniper was very sad and affective. The first half is what will stick with me, though.

The only two notes I wrote down when watching the movie were, “do they really not have horses in Vietnam?” and “prostitutes in Vietnam have the best clothes.” I’m silly. I know the latter is correct by observation, and I assume the former is about something someone said in the movie. A quick google search tells me that there has been horse racing in Vietnam so I’ll assume that’s the answer. The more you know.

Face palm moment: As I mentioned with Scarface, the experiences you have of watching one actor play a role over and over really affect the way you view them in other roles. This was true with Vincent D’Onofrio, who I’ve only seen in Men in Black and (more frequently) Law and Order: CI. Watching him pre-drugged (I think) and pudgy took some getting used to. Also, I feel like I’ve only ever seen R Lee Ermey yell at people in commercials. So that was weird.

Favorite part: As Kevin mentioned, the drill instructor was…HILARIOUS.

The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment: Me so horny, me love you long time.” “What can I get for ten dollars? Everything you want.” ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE that these lines came from this movie. And, you know, I was a hip hop DJ on KJHK for years and played a little 2 Live Crew in my time, so I started cracking up when this quote came up.

Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): This is hard. I can’t say that I enjoyed it because it was so tragic and violent, but I’m glad I saw a movie that was so important to two people who mean a lot to me. So I’ll give it a five.

11 responses to “Late to the Major Malfunction! A review of Full Metal Jacket

  1. Love this movie! Did you know that Ermey was a drill instructor in real life?

  2. Laura, how did you feel about the duel nature of the movie?

    I’ve come across a lot of people that really disconnect after the end of the abrupt end of the boot camp portion. You touched on it a little with the halves, but I’ve talked to (and read) people that just don’t like the Vietnam part. I think a lot of people love the boot camp stuff (Ermey being the biggest reason) so much and the actual war stuff gets overshadowed. I’ve always thought the “Vietnam is going to suck” foreshadowing with Pyle is especially chilling, the sudden change in tone helps underline it.

    I’ll gently remind again that you that you need to watch Dr. Strangelove (as much as you love Being There, kind of crazy you haven’t seen Sellers best overall work) and to add Paths of Glory to your Kubrick queue.

  3. Ryan, the dual nature of the film reflects the different parts in the book, which actually has three separate parts. Ironically the boot camp portion of the book is the smallest, yet is the biggest and best in the movie. The third part is only sparingly used with most of the second dealing with Tet and Hue in Vietnam. Although I really like the second part, I have seen the boot camp section many times and then just shut it off because I didn’t really care to see the second half again. I remember seeing this as a kid and being blown away because of the “pajama” or “blanket party” as we call it when Pyle gets blasted by the recruits, then he blows his head off, then the female sniper scene.

  4. i love everything about that movie. i love matthew modine and arliss howard and just everything. i need to watch this again asap.

  5. Pingback: A Disturbance in the Force | Late to the Movies

  6. Wow I never made the connection from Vincent D’Onofrio to Pvt Pyle until you mentioned it…

    Anyway, hypothetical question. Near the end, Joker loses it. What do you think Kubrick was trying to say with our hero suddenly losing his shit? What happens to Jokers approach to life and his dedication to service after the Mickey Mouse March?

  7. Great film; Kubrick never disappoints… to think this was the same director who made “Paths of Glory,” another film that challenged the absurdities of war (but from an entirely different approach). Anyway, Kubrick’s film is such a more complex view of Vietnam than Oliver Stone’s more popular “Platoon” (which wasn’t bad, but nowhere near as genius as “Full Metal Jacket”). Stone’s film sets up a simple dichotomy of Jesus figure (DeFoe) and Luficer figure (Barringer); and borders on “cheesy” when the former dies. FMJ, on the other hand, makes absolutely nothing about war glorious–from the stark suicide in the barracks bathroom to the gunning down of the sniper. The most troubling aspect of the movie, I think, is its commentary on women–they’re all killers, whether they are luring prostitutes or sure-shot snipers (the scene where they circle the dead sniper girl is especially troubling, I thought). Great movie–I’m glad you’ve finally seen it. Does this mean you’ve already seen “Apocalypse Now”?

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