Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Vietnam War as portrayed by Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987)


It is interesting to identify the reactions many Americans had to the Vietnam War, a war that began in 1955 and finished 20 years later 1975. Many Americans would have had first hand experience, particularly those Marines who served their country during those years. Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket seems to blur the perceptions and representations of what life amidst the Vietnam War was like.
The article weighs up the real and surreal nature of the film and its own representation of the Vietnam War in general.
We may argue that Full Metal Jacket was a realistic film, in its disturbingly 'real' visual representations of its characters, e.g. the vulnerability shown by the character 'Gomer Pyle' and the rejection of robotic marine values of zero mercy, zero emotion and zero weakness as rejected by Matthew Modine's character 'Joker'. The historical representations of Vietnam at the time can be considered as real, in the use of a little girl as a sniper towards the end of the film. The Viet Cong's ability to control its peasants in support of a communist kingdom. A kingdom that ultimately Western republican powers fronted by Reagan in the 80s sort to destroy.

Yet despite this element of reality, the movie is also unrealistic in Kubrick's directorial style and in his satirical portrayal of Sergeant Hartman, a ruthless, ill-tempered, control freak, the atypical drill Sergeant imitated in various cartoons and reality TV. Kubrick seems to counterbalance the element of comedy with the element of torture and psychological bullying as 'Gomer Pyle' is made the centre of attention and the symbol of the fall guy to all the other recruitments. The article identifies this sense of subjectivity with a close analysis of camera shots, most notably the one in which 'Pyle' is made to stand whilst all his belongings are scattered all over the floor and watch his platoon do push up as penance for not giving 'Pyle' the 'proper motivation'.
The bullying and psychological pressure becomes so intense that it ultimately explodes and Hartman in constructing this 'Monster' becomes the 'Frankenstein', the victim of his own construction.
The impact of the Vietnam War on this particular part of the film is over-emphasised and blown to max, as Hartman conditions his recruits to expect the worst and become hard to it. Private Joker's quote towards the end of the film sums up a general feeling that may have been true to many recruits at that time, 'I'm in a world of shit... yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.'
The article ultimately establishes Kubrick's film as both real and surreal; the documentary style camera work set against the surreal nature of its uses as identified in the scene in which the camera shows a point of view shot from a dead soldiers eyes, looking up at the characters who offer various passing comments.

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