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August 1993


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Jesse Kalin <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 19 Aug 1993 10:49:15 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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A major point of reference for "Full Metal Jacket" is, I would argue, the
films about WW2, especially those produced during the war itself or shortly
thereafter.  For instance, many of those of John Wayne.  They have as their
subjects the war experience itself, why fight, and how soldiers are made
and what they finally are/become.  Many of these films have the same two
part structure of FMJ (which is, I think, the source of that structure for
Kubrick): Part 1 is training from raw recruit/strangers to untested
soldier/buddies; part 2 is the testing, battle itself, and something about
the sacrifice exacted and its necessity, recruits are now men, true
soldiers, and buddies are blood-comrades.  Part 1 is the (efficient) cause
(preparation, enabling condition) for Part 2, while Part 2 is the (final)
cause (justification, need) for all that went on in Part 1.
Read in this way the film is quite powerful and raises fundamental
questions in a way "Platoon" doesn't approach.  Its views on that war are
not new and are liberal-leftist.  If it has any kind of elegaic tone (along
with the sort of dull numbness of its ending), it is quite different from
"Platoon"'s, and is not for the individual soldiers involved but for the
country, for a different, "juster" war, and a different knid of movie.
Gordon observes that the outcome of Part 2 is to become a man by killing
the enemy.  But here the enemy is a woman, or even a teenager, someone who
never would have been an enemy in WW2 films, someone who should be a
civilian and for whose benefit the war is being fought.
More importantly here, this event (and what it figures with respect to the
war) is fundamentally related to Part 1 and undercuts it.  In the training
of these marines (the equiping them with their own 'full metal jackets' to
make them real fighting men) they are constantly barraged with a sexist and
deeply anti-female vocabulary.  When they do something wrong they are women
(in the crudest terms); a soldier can't be female in any form and it is
this part of him that must be taken away, "turned into metal" if Part 1 is
to succeed and the goals of Part 2 achieved.
Thus, the fact that a teenage girl, presumably not drafted and there
because she believes in what she's fighting for, is the sniper, and a
soldier as good as they are (without the kind of training in Part 1), is
more than ironic.  It works as a device to undercut and put into question
the war itself, and everything in Part 1 and what Part 2 stands/should
stand for.  There should now be a creeping sense of failure/horror: not
just that the weapon forged in Part 1 is not superior to the enemy, but
that it is deeply morally flwaed/compromised in its goals and
                Jesse Kalin, Vassar College