Close Up

26 May 2017: Full Metal Jacket


Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick
1987 | 112 min | Colour | DCP

"Although initially received with bewilderment, Full Metal Jacket (1987) now stands among the key works in Stanley Kubrick’s exploration of identity and its problematic nature. Fairly closely adapted from Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel The Short-Timers, Kubrick’s film follows a young recruit dubbed Private Joker (played by Matthew Modine) – tellingly, we never learn his real name – as he moves from basic training on Parris Island to the hell of Vietnam. The screenplay was written by Kubrick in collaboration with Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, from which many details – including the key image of the words "Born to Kill" placed in all innocence next to the peace symbol on Joker’s helmet – were directly taken.

In Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick continues his concern with the limits of free will already evident in such diverse figures as Humbert Humbert (James Mason) in Lolita (1961), the eponymous protagonist of Barry Lyndon (1975), the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980)’s Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)’s Alex (Malcolm McDowell). In Full Metal Jacket, this theme is explored through the sadistic process according to which young recruits have their individual personalities broken down so that they can be rebuilt as fighting machines. Kubrick’s fascination with supposedly flawless systems running out of control (evident in all his films) emerges when Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) shoots his creator, thus becoming the perfect killer Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey) hoped to shape (this is even clearer in the novel, where the DI’s final words are “Private Pyle, I’m proud…”)." – Brad Stevens

Part of our season retrospective on Stanley Kubrick