Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” – A Movie Review

Kubrick produced some very memorable films.  All the ones I’ve seen are extremely idiosyncratic.  Full Metal Jacket is definitely in the same mold.  It tells the story of a group of U.S. Marines from boot camp to their participation in the Tet Offensive during the height of the Vietnam War.

In the opening scene the Drill Sargent played memorably by R. Lee Ermey berates and sometimes beats on the recruits to cow them and focus their attention on how serious their situation was.  I won’t reveal the details of the boot camp section of the movie but suffice it to say that the consequences of the discipline prove to be as serious as the consequences of war itself.

After the boot camp scenes we go directly to Vietnam and meet up with the new Marines.  One has ended up as a reporter with the military news service “Stars and Stripes.”  He is bored and anxious to get into the field to see the real war.  With the beginning of the Tet Offensive he gets his wish.  He’s sent up country and meets up with one of his boot camp buddies and joins their patrol.  Here he sees the real war with all the brutality and even criminality associated with a guerilla war.  And here we meet the most interesting character of the movie, Animal Mother played by the inimitable Adam Baldwin.  He’s the M60 machine gunner of the platoon wearing ammunitions belts like bandoliers across his chest and shooting an enormous number of rounds at anything that fired at him.  When asked how the war should end he stated that the “smart guys” should bomb North Vietnam into surrendering.  He’s brutal and completely uninterested in helping the South Vietnamese, only in killing the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and anyone else who gives him trouble.

The final battle scenes show the patrol running into a sniper position.  One of their men is hit in a forward position.  The acting squad leader is worried that a large North Vietnamese force is ahead and doesn’t allow his men to retrieve the downed man even after the sniper continues to wound him with additional shots.  Finally after seeing the wounded man hit several times, Animal Mother charges in.  He manages to reach cover and determines that a lone sniper is at work.  When the patrol reaches him they take further casualties including the acting squad leader.  The final scenes show the ironic nature of this unconventional war and the effect it has on the Americans who have to navigate it.  But as insane as their world has become, they still celebrate the fact that they’ve survived what so many have not.

Based on the tone of his earlier movie “Doctor Strangelove” I assume Kubrick was not a patriotic cheerleader of the Vietnam War but I would say he represented the war right down the middle.  He showed the horror but he doesn’t have the men represented by only pacifists.  They represent a cross-section of attitudes.  They show a cross section of behaviors from humane to sadistic.

It’s been called a classic.  I’d say Full Metal Jacket is a Kubrick style take on the Vietnam War.  I have a brother-in-law who was in the Tet Offensive.  I remember his description of what went on and it seems to jibe very closely to what Kubrick is showing.  That speaks well of what Kubrick made.  I think it’s a good movie and one of the few representations of that war that gets it right.

2001: A Space Odyssey – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Warning, this whole review is one long spoiler.  In my defense this movie is 49 years old.)

The only good thing about The Academy Awards is that for the whole month before, TCM plays many good (and not so good) old movies.  Last night I watched 2001.  As the exit music was finishing it occurred to me that this was the first time in almost fifty years that I had watched the movie from beginning to end.  Back in 1968 I attended the film in a large theater in Manhattan as part of a class trip.  At the time I was a sci-fi fan but I distinctly remember becoming incredibly bored during the “Infinity” sequence.  And sure enough, last night I found my eyes glazing over as I waited for Keir Dullea to stop making funny faces and show up in Versailles.  And then it also occurred to me that it was actually a very, very good movie.  So, let’s talk about it.  You already know I don’t like the “Infinity” sequence.  But I find the rest of the film is excellent.  Not everybody cares for Kubrick’s style in film-making.  There is a great deal of stylization and idiosyncratic imagery that bothers many people.  And without a doubt it is highly un-naturalistic.  In fact, the ape men were the most realistic as personalities.  The other characters are decidedly wooden.

But without a doubt this movie is an amazing spectacle.  The matching of images to the musical soundtrack is perfect.  The sequences of space ships landing and maneuvering are shown as if they were dancers in a ballet.  The “Dawn of Man” sequence is riveting.  I could believe that the actual event was very much like the portrayal (minus the monolith of course).  It captured the essence of human ingenuity.  The desperate and sordid circumstances of that ingenuity ring true.

And then there’s HAL.  I hate HAL.  I always have.  But he is the perfect Frankenstein Monster.  And the arc of his crime and punishment is, for me, a thing of hideous beauty.  His relations with the astronauts are as creepy and dishonest as some Dickens villain, something like Uriah Heep.  Some people feel sadness when Dave lobotomizes HAL and reduces him to the level of a two-year-old singing “Daisy.”  I never shared that sadness.  I guess I’m more Old-Testament.

So, that brings us back to the “Infinity” sequence which sucks.  But following it we have what I call the “Versailles” scene where I guess Dave lives his life out as a captive of the monolith makers.  This is weird and I guess necessary to set up the conclusion.  Dave dies and is reborn as the next stage of human evolution.  And he is returned to our solar system and the picture ends with him floating above earth to the sequence of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube Waltz” playing us out.

In sum we have a fifty year old movie that is still visually stunning, that addresses the inexplicable advance of savage animals to the brink of interplanetary travel and the frightening prospect of facing our masters in artificial intelligence.  What’s not to like?  Well he could have added a few good-looking space babes but nobody’s perfect.