This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket, revealing its meaning, symbols and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.
Despite being considered one of the best war movies ever, war, in Full Metal Jacket, is a presence that comes slowly, exploding in all its tragedy only in the second half of the vision. Because the truth is that neither the war nor Vietnam are the real protagonists of the film. From this point of view, Stanley Kubrick’s work dissociates itself from the Hollywood idea of war film and becomes more an analysis of the individual and the relationship that is established between reality and human being, in front of the extreme experiences of war.
The constant theme of the film, the one present from beginning to end and which continues to be deepened and surrounded by every perspective, is individuality. Or rather, the need to cancel it: the way in which the human being, going through the complete path of military training and active participation in the war, is forced to deny his character, his distinctive traits and even his own humanity. It is a profound theme that appears in the film through multiple images and effective dialogues: the opening credits with the shaved kids, each of them transformed into a unique look, a single physical aspect, a sign of the homologation needed to start the journey; the presentation of instructor Hartman, who clearly explains that until the end of training the soldiers are not even human beings, while at the end they will be a weapon (both forms are far from being human); Joker’s famous dialogue on the duality of man regarding the words “born to kill” and the symbol of peace, which brings out the effective impracticability of human expression in those environments; and finally the final scene, with the soldiers singing Mickey Mouse’s song, a desperate attempt to reconnect with their childhood and grab their human side before it disappears forever.
Joker thus becomes the specious protagonist of the film, the only one who strives to preserve his identity in a mass of men who have become war machines. A possibility that has been denied to all the others, fallen one by one under the blows of the psychological violence that the military world applies when it turns you into a soldier. The soldier “Gomer Pyle” would have been the other character who, in spite of himself, still lived his own human side, but the fury on him makes him succumb: at the end of the training the soldier ends up identifying himself exclusively with his relationship with the rifle, and from there the decision to make his life leave his mark through his weapon, killing Hartman and then committing suicide.
The truth is that, along the entire path of the film, and despite all the resistances put into play, Joker also undergoes transformation. After passing through all the circles of hell in the war, after repeatedly trying to keep a duality that’s hard to manage in the military world, after his contradictions and his attempts at reconciliation, Joker finally discovers that he is not “a tough guy”, not a good soldier, when in front of the sniper trying to shoot him he loses control of his weapon. Only when the sniper is half dead on the ground, in the final scene, with the men arranged in a circle around him in a sort of true initiation rite, Joker makes his choice: his face changes when he decides to lose his own humanity and kill a woman, the same thing that in the middle of the film he found repugnant. And not surprisingly, the soundtrack takes up the muffled sounds of the moment when Gomer Pyle commits suicide.
Full Metal Jacket thus becomes the story of an impossible resistance, of the incompatibility between the human being and the war machine. Something more than a fierce criticism of the war or the social mechanisms that revolve around it, something closer to a profound analysis of mankind. This is why, after the first viewing, many people miss the true meaning of the film: because the director has never missed an opportunity to show the contradictions, the senselessness, the absurdity of the mechanisms of the war. Rather than offering us a single message, a clear design, Kubrick wanted to make us feel confused, passive, powerless, incapable of a fair assessment of things. Like the same soldiers with whom we lived the film.