Jacket Finds Laughter in War
By Cedric Severino

Francois Truffaut, the famous French New Wave filmmaker, once said that it is impossible to make an anti-war film, as any film that attempts to be anti-war will inevitably aestheticize aspects of war.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1988 film Full Metal Jacket definitely comes as close as possible to achieving this impossibility, as it demonstrates the horrible and dehumanizing aspects of conflict both in and outside of actual violent battles. Interestingly, however, the film is able to pull off this negative portrayal of war with a sense of humor.
Full Metal Jacket has an abundance of wit and irony, displayed in such famous scenes as the Vietnamese hooker trying to score by demonstrating her affection for the American GIs and Joker’s (played by Matthew Modine of Vision Quest fame) ability to see the humor in the grimmest of situations.
While the film’s negative portrayal of the Vietnam War may be hackneyed subject matter, Kubrick brings an interesting analysis to the conflict, focusing on its effects on a few eccentric individuals.
The film is divided into two main parts: the first tracks Joker and his hapless and helpless Marine Corps mate — Leonard Pyle — as they are led through boot camp by one of the most sadistic and ridiculous drill sergeants imaginable.
These scenes provide a satirical critique of the Army, in that their absurdity and exaggeration make them humorous, while making the viewer aware of the existence of similar conditions in real life.
The ironic humor present here is matched with a seriousness about the army’s (especially the Marine Corps) dehumanizing effects, creating “killers” whose main purpose is to “supply God with fresh souls for heaven,” as the drill sergeant memorably states.

However, there is an inevitable psychosis created in this, which is expressed through Pyle’s inability to deal with the authoritarianism of the Corps that singles him out as fat and incompetent and makes him the object of the hatred of his fellow trainees.

After the surprising and disturbing climax to the first section, the action follows Joker to his position as a Marine journalist in Vietnam. His comfortable non-combat position soon changes when the Tet Offensive occurs and he is reluctantly forced to adopt the role of soldier as a result of his unappreciated facetious comments.

What follows includes a horrific (yet beautifully shot and composed) vision of war, culminating in the death of a sniper and the singing of the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club as the soldiers return, having ended the conflict, but definitely not victoriously in any traditional sense of the word.

Kubrick illustrates the dehumanizing and absurd aspects of war, yet demonstrates how an individual can possibly deal with even the most awful of situations through the maintenance of perspective and self-hood.
Indeed, Joker is the ironic hero, in that he succeeds in maintaining his individuality (including his peace button and his “Born to Kill” helmet) despite the conformity and homogeneity imposed upon soldiers, and the conflict that encourages a dehumanizing of the enemy as an inhuman “other.”

As he states at the end of the film, “I am in a world of shit, but I am alive, and I am not afraid.” If that isn’t an existential message of hope in the face of nothingness, what is?

Full Metal Jacket is showing tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the West Lecture Hall

October 4
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