Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

“These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know.”

As many can see from my choice of films, the films I choose to watch is more for their importance in film history than for the current trend of zeuitgeist. Perhaps I am watching the back catalogue of a highly influential director (Speilberg, Hitchcock, Lean), perhaps it is an international-inspiration (French New-Wave, Italian Neo-Realism, Contemporary Latin-America) or it is simply one of those ‘must see’ films. Full Metal Jacket, and most of Kubricks work is in the latter category. Fact is, though I choose to watch these films, in some cases it is a bit of an effort (a family member asked recently “How on earth can you watch a film in the morning? films are for the evening!” Answer, it is the love of film and focus of understanding film that drives me…). So, sometimes, I put one of these films on and realise that it is actually, from the get go, something that I am hooked on. In these cases, I will often pause the film and save it to watch it with Sarah… or Sarah will promise to watch it on a later date. Suffice to say, this is one of those films that became one of my favourite films almost instantly – and within a week, my passion for the film inspired Sarah to watch it on her own.

The Duality of Man

On his head is a symbol or peace and, next to it, the words “born to kill”. This complete conflict, two polar-opposite attitudes to war, is what roots itself in the themes of this film  – these two stances are what makes men so conflicting in their stance towards war and violence. They can make a man go mad.

Set during the Vietnam war, the first 40-minutes of the film is exclusively set in the boot camp, on American soil, as the new privates are grilled through their paces by Hartman (Lee Emery). Hartmans attitude is aggressive and violent – everything that war is – beginning the soldiers career in a completely controlled and inhuman environment. We specifically follow Prvate ‘Pile’ – an overweight, gun-obsessed soldier – who Hartman takes great pleasure degrading and insulting. This culminates in Private Pile killing himself – after having killed Hartman. A complete shift in the film as we now move to follow Joker (Modine) as he is deployed to fight in the war.


The sondtrack is rooted in pop-music, making the whole film that much more surreal: Rolling Stones and Nancy Sinatra playing over hyper-masculine men training and flirting with prostitutes. The small sections of score used is composed by Abigail Mead.

The complete contrast between the unified, clean and controlled environment in the boot camp completely contrasts with destroyed, burnt out buildings of an uncontrolled war. When we move into war territory, the camera becomes more disorientating – handheld and rough, almost like documentary footage as we see stark silhouettes across the war-torn landscape

A Real Finale

It ends it horror as a woman is revealed to be a sniper – can Joker, Mr “Born to Kill”, kill this female sniper? The world is a different place – the environment is different. Soldiers choose to fight, they choose to defend, the choose to have the constant conflict of ‘peace’ against ‘brute force’. This woman clearly does not choose – her hand has been pushed to protect herself and her family.

Having watched this a few years ago, and only revisiting it now through this review, it makes me desperate to get stuck in again. The entire film you wait to see the ‘war’ within the film genre it resides – but we see the madness of war and the madness of training men for war.


  1. Visually poetic, darkly humorous, uncompromisingly brutal, and subversive in every way, Full Metal Jacket is easily one of the best war movies without being remotely similar to your standard issue war flick.

  2. Google what the sniper says on her death bed. CREEPY STUFF!! The ending is like a metaphor for Iraq and Vietnam wars. I think Kubricks point is that there is no duality of man. We make us vs them dualities to justify being murderers.

  3. @CMrok93 – I think the depth of Full Metal Jacket alone puts it into that 'best war movies' category. Not just guns and masculinity.

    @Anon – You are completely right. I was thinking today about how much I respected the military and then thought to myself how much I despise war… but then, could you argue, that the military IS war. And protection. But mostly war… hence our involvement in conflicts elsewere. Maybe. Because i do respect soldiers immensely.

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