The opening scene to this movie brought forward a tidal wave of memories for me. We see a group of teenage American men getting ready for boot camp by having their heads shaved with less care than a Sheep farmer takes while husking the herd. My experience was humiliating as the barber shaved a small triangle on the top of my head. It was an exact replica of a women’s forbidden fruit. He then mercilessly pushed my head downward, boldly stating to every recruit in the room; “Take a good look at this boys, you won’t be seeing one of these for while!”
Full Metal Jacket has the realism of military recruit training and shows us with acute accuracy what it’s like beginning life in the military. With open bay barracks, bunk buddies, and open latrine stalls, the movie triggered an imbedded response in me. I had the urge to start shining my boots and doing push-ups. Of all the military movies available, FMJ ranks #1 with me for realism in training. Why such a high ranking? I cannot speak for the Vietnam portion of the movie, but the Basic Training sequence is as true-life as it gets. I’m sure most veterans will agree.
USMC Basic Training – Platoon 3092, Parris Island, SC
This Is My Rifle, This Is My Gun! This Is For Shooting, This Is For Fun!
In 1968, the country was at war and the majority of us still believed we were in Vietnam combating Communism. The story follows the trials and tribulations of Private Joker as he enters boot camp and eventually sent off to war. We watch his struggle to succeed while doing everything he can to help along fellow Marines Private Pyle and Private Cowboy. After weeks of torture from Drill Instructor Hartman, the three graduate and wait to be shipped off to the Nam. But so much physical and psychological abuse from Hartman causes Private Pyle to snap. Pyle makes a lunatic's stand late at night in the latrine. Armed with boxer shorts and his loaded M-14, Pyle decides that he is in a world of hurt. Before he takes his own life, he has a score to settle with a Drill Instructor Hartman.
Private Joker portrayed by Matthew Modine - Straight out of small town America where he was a writer for his High School newspaper, Joker seems out of place in this military format. His liberal attitude and sarcastic jokes doesn’t go over well with his Senior Drill Instructor Hartman and his Corp. He survives boot camp and is sent to Vietnam as a Combat Correspondent for Stars & Stripes. Joker lands a job putting spins on combat stories for the boys fighting the war, yet he finds a hard time doing it while trying to write the truth. Joker's dualism about the war is evident with the Peace symbol on his flak vest and “Born to Kill" on his steel pot.
Private Cowboy portrayed by Arliss Howard– A small town Texas boy who becomes fast friends with Private Joker. The two make it through boot camp together and are as close as brothers. Neither of the young men imagines they will ever see each other again after training. Cowboy gets assigned to an Infantry unit in Vietnam while Joker gets his cush assignment in the rear with the gear. Only fate let their paths cross once more.
Private Pyle portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio – An obvious simple-minded character that is slightly overweight. Pyle becomes DI Hartman’s main focus during boot camp, constantly screaming and humiliating him. Pyle can’t seem to get anything right until the DI starts punishing the entire platoon for Pyle's mistakes. His fellow Marines give him a blanket party* as a message to straighten his act up. This causes serious psychological damage to the boy. Although he manages to make it through training, he realizes that he doesn’t want to carry on as a Marine and takes desperate measure to ensure he doesn’t get shipped to Vietnam.
Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman portrayed by R. Lee Ermey - Is the toughest thing to come along since Christ was a Corporal. His job is to whip the young lads’ into shape before going to war. He trains them in all aspects of combat to include psychological warfare by constantly barraging them with ridicule and mind-boggling head games. By far the best portrayal of a Drill Instructor ever to be filmed to date, right down to the inflection of his voice while singing cadence for Drill & Ceremonies* & Physical Training.
Hue City, Vietnam - Tet Offensive, Year of the Monkey!
After boot camp, we see the destruction of a Hue city by American Forces. After Joker & Cowboy reunite, Joker follows Cowboy’s platoon into the burning city to cover the recent Tet offensive by the NVA*. Hard as nails Marines rummage through town on Search & Destroy mission until a sniper pins them down. Not too thrilled about getting picked off one by one, the infantrymen take desperate measure and eventually catch up to the sniper after loosing 3 men, including Cowboy. As the sniper lay wounded, Private Joker must make the decision to take a life in revenge for his Cowboy's death. It goes against all his beliefs.
What You Get From This Movie
A lot of realism for the first half and a lot of confusion at the end. Although this is a great movie it had a rather weak fin instead of the grand finale you would expect. The acting is remarkable, especially Private Pyle and DI Hartman. I recommend this film for mature audiences. Definitely not recommended for under 13.
Definition of Terms:
* Blanket Party - Tradition in beating servicemen into following the group, ie Hazing
* Drill & Ceremonies - Marching in rank & file
* NVA - North Vietnamese Army
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