Full Metal Jacket Essay, Research Paper
Full Metal Jacket: An Accurate Portrayal of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial American military involvements of the twentieth century. There has always been much discussion as to why the Americans were forced into defeat and as to why so many American soldiers died for a purpose that was not achieved. Many directors have made attempts at recreating the horrors of this war, and many have been criticized for providing an unrealistic depiction of it. In 1987, Full Metal Jacket, a Stanley Kubrick film, dared to oppose these traditional expectations of failure. Beginning in a Parris Island boot camp and ending in the Vietnamese city, Hue, it attempts to show, the distasteful irony between the desire for combat and true terror of war. 1 The film, Full Metal Jacket provides its audience with a historically accurate picture of all aspects of the Vietnam War.
Although the screenplay is based on a fictional story line revolving around a Vietnam War journalist, Stanley Kubrick provides a variety of factional occurrences that would be expected of a Vietnam War movie, which create a realistic setting. First of all, the movie begins at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina. This depot was actually used as a basic training area for the Vietnam War. The story line does follow actual war events such as the TET Offensive, the fall of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, and the battle of Hue. Also, Kubrick provides an accurate setting around American soldiers by using war code and racist slang such as Charlie , grunt , dogpatch , gooks , and zipper-heads . Many of these terms were actually used as code over radio transmissions so that the North Vietnamese could not comprehend them, but they also were developed to give the American soldiers a sense of superiority and unity among themselves. Thus, factual occurrences were used to provide a realistic setting.
Secondly, the film gives an accurate account of the methods and goals of Vietnam War journalists. In the film, the main character, Joker, is assigned to work for the war paper Stars and Stripes. In the scenes concerning the paper there is much discussion about what the journalists have to set their goals for, that is providing stories that make the Americans look good. Stars and Stripes was a real newspaper during the Vietnam War and there is evidence that journalists were pressured by their advisors to only produce stories that were pro-American, and in some cases they were asked to alter the records in order to achieve this. Joseph E. MacDonald, a journalist for Stars and Stripes , gives one account during 1969, in which he describes his work as complete bullshit. He states that on one occasion, his chief advisor forced him to decrease an American body count from twenty to four soldiers, in order to provide a positive outlook for the American battalions at Hue.2 If they found it necessary to lie in order to gain backing for an already unpopular war, they must have feared defeat at early stages. Therefore, an account given by Joseph E. MacDonald proves that Kubrick portrays realistic attitudes towards journalism during the war.
The film makes truthful suggestions about the role of prostitution in the Vietnam War. For instance, during one of the battles at Hue, a South Vietnamese soldier brings in a young Vietnamese woman for Joker s entire platoon to share for only five dollars each. It was usual for a soldier who stayed in Vietnam for any length of time to depend on Vietnamese prostitutes to answer to their sexual cravings. Although not many men enjoy revealing their endeavours with prostitution during the war, there are accounts that prove the abundance of it: Saigon was an addicted city, and we were the drug the mass prostitution of women it had all been done in our name. 3 This quote from James Fenton in 1985 reveals that prostitution, among other things, was something that both the American soldiers and the South Vietnamese inhabitants thrived on to survive the war. The open attitudes towards twenty men sharing a young foreign girl sexually really shows how much certain aspects of this war broke any remote sense of traditional morality among anybody involved. So Kubrick does a good job of attempting to explain the decrease in basic moral values caused by war through situations like prostitution.
Kubrick attempts to analyze soldier behaviour and psychology further by depicting realistic occurrences of savagery and cruelty towards enemy soldiers. These actions are carried out in the movie by one of the toughest privates in Joker s platoon, Animal Mother. The character of Animal Mother is the perfect example of a patriotic American who is willing to kill anything he has to, in order to accomplish the mission. He also has a sense of respect and loyalty to his friends, shown when he attempts to rescue two fellow privates from sniper fire. With the phrase I welcome death written on his helmet and a massive M-60 chaingun in his hands, he probably carries out the most violent kills in the entire movie, without a hint of any remorse. This sense of cruelty is also shown in the movie when Joker meets up with the platoon he will soon be joining in battle. One of the soldiers requests a picture of him and his friend to be put in the paper. Just before the camera flashes he reveals that his friend is a dead North Vietnamese soldier who he had dressed in American uniform. This type of disturbing behaviour, while comical to some, was commonly carried out in the Vietnam War, and has been cited by many soldiers. The following quote, taken from a letter written by James Simmen, a platoon leader in Saigon, shows how easily some of these soldiers killed and thought nothing of it: You would be surprised how similar killing is to hunting I get excited when I see a VC, just like when I see a deer civilians think such thinking is crazy, but it s no big deal. 4 Another illustration of this behaviour is provided by an American soldier named Arthur Woodley. He was widely known for stripping the ears and fingers off of every dead North Vietnamese soldier he killed. Consequently, Kubrick provides specific examples of the type of distinctive behaviour that was common among American soldiers.
Finally, the film paints a perfect picture of what was known of basic training for freshly recruited soldiers. Basic training is intended to develop recruits into emotionless, disciplined soldiers lacking personality, through isolation, and through extensive psychological and physical training. In the film, Kubrick depicts boot camp as a world of verbal and physical abuse. This abuse is distributed by the leading drill instructor of platoon 3092 of the Parris Island U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot. In the film the drill instructor selects one unsatisfactory, overweight recruit, Private Pyle, to make an example of by constantly abusing him. Physical abuse is demonstrated when Private Pyle cannot help himself from grinning at the drill instructor s comical comments and he replies by choking him until he almost passes out. There is enough vulgar verbal abuse directed towards Pyle in the film to fill a forty-five minute time slot. Unfortunately, Pyle does not turn out to be a depersonalized fighting machine; instead he clearly goes insane, shoots the drill instructor and then commits suicide. Almost all accounts of boot camp given by veterans coincide precisely with what Kubrick has produced. One account in particular, given by Vietnam War veteran John Ketwig, describes almost the exact same story as that of Private Pyle. He describes boot camp as a place where everyone is depersonalized, stripped of any prior civilian status, and forced to give up their individuality for the general will. There was an unsatisfactory recruit, similar to Pyle, in his platoon during basic training. He stated that the drill instructors tend to pick one private to make an example of, in this case, Private Fatso. He was constantly the receiver of physical and verbal abuse. In one occurrence, he was forced to defecate on a cigarette and carry it across the field naked before he could get dressed and return to the barracks. Private Fatso also committed suicide in the end.5 Ketwig also recalls soldiers resisting abuse by beating the unsatisfactory private at night. Private Pyle also experiences these acts of violence. It seems that, to understand what happens to the GI among the mine fields of My Lai, you must understand a thing called basic training. 6 Basic training has been given blame for much of the savagery towards the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. Kubrick s realistic portrayal of boot camp is contributed to one of Kubrick s technical advisors, who actually was a drill instructor at Parris Island. Many of the techniques used in the movie were taken from his experiences. Thus, Kubrick does an excellent job of showing the brutality of basic training prior to the Vietnam War.
The film Full Metal Jacket does a superb job of realistically portraying many historically accurate aspects of the Vietnam War. This is proven through: factual occurrences, a depiction of the method behind war journalism, common prostitution, cruelty towards the Vietnamese, and an excellent picture of a pre-war basic training camp. While it is quite clear that the Americans have made an assortment of Vietnam War movies, all trying to depict the psychological and physical horrors of war, it would be interesting to know if the Vietnamese have any sort of recollection on film concerning the different aspects of the war, and if so what are their opinions on the brutality of it.