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Volume 72, Issue 106, Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Life & Arts

Kubrick classic ‘Full Metal Jacket' remains relevant

Director's 1987 statement on innocence and war may inspire feelings of deja vu for today's audiences 

The Daily Cougar

Gruesome reports of death and destruction in Iraq flood the news on a daily basis, though oftentimes the true extent of the atrocities is lost on a society more concerned with what shenanigans Britney Spears is up to. 

It is difficult for jaded Americans to imagine a time when images of war were not so readily available, but it wasn't that long ago. 

The Vietnam War, the same one that the current war seems more similar to all the time, was the first one to really be televised. 

Stanley Kubrick's classic war film Full Metal Jacket explores the theme of becoming desensitized to violence with Vietnam as one of its settings.

Released in 1987, the film received several Oscar nods despite mixed reviews. After the success of Platoon, Warner Bros. couldn't wait to put Full Metal Jacket on the big screen. Apparently, America was actually craving Vietnam movies -- Generation X for the action and gore and the intellectuals for the political and cultural statements. The film delivers both.

The tour guide on this journey through the mind of apathetic youth is The Joker (Matthew Modine). The Joker defines the entire spectrum of thought surrounding the conflict with his helmet, which features a peace symbol pin alongside the words "Born to Kill" written in magic marker. He takes the audience through the hardening process of basic training to his deployment as a journalist for Stars & Stripes to his encounters with Charlie.

Also along for the ride in the first half is Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio), who is less enlightened and declares his eternal allegiance to the bullet that shares the film's title. The plight of Pvt. Pyle bridges the gap between soldiers and civilians, making this admittedly heavy and graphic film appreciable to those who aren't normally fans of the war genre. 

The subplot is easy to relate to because everyone has felt like a black sheep at some point. What happens to a simple man when he encounters, for lack of a better expression, "the horror," will be more interesting to some.

Full Metal Jacket is also the source of one of most sexually charged tidbits in our canon of general knowledge. 

In one unforgettable scene, the Joker and a cameraman are minding their own business on a street in Saigon when they are approached with an offer they are not about to refuse. 

The scene in which the sexual deal is consummated was cut because it was said to have distracted from the bitter atmosphere too much.

The film also handles the question of innocence, especially in the final scene when the boys, now men, walk through a sunset-illuminated plain after a battle, chanting and whistling the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club in chorus. 

To expand on this point of interest, the term "Mickey Mouse" was Army jargon for a person or thing that was petty, stupid and senseless. America sent its boys, educated by the moral teachings of Disney, to impose democracy on a country they didn't even understand. 

They were trained to kill, not to think. This scene in particular must have struck a cord with 1987 American audiences because it is so eerie. To a 2007 American audience, it could inspire a feeling of deja vu.

Film is the medium of the people. Though the noble art form has been called everything from unapologetically commercial and plebian to bona fide high art, few media enjoy the power of films, which can capture the essence of their time as well as shed some light on our own. Full Metal Jacket is a prime example of that power.

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