It has been a while since I watched Full Metal Jacket. The first time it was for entertainment, and for the second time it was probably for entertainment. I did not pay much attention to the character development and their personalities, or how one character, Private Joker, evolves throughout the film from enduring an intense Gunnery Sergearnt Hartman and seeing his closet friend in training commit suicide to the Vietnam War. Recently, I watched it with an analytic view. It is more than a war film, just as The Thin Red Line and Platoon are more than about action, death, and war; the film is also a focus on the human condition and the evolution of the mind while under stressful situations – in war and outside of war.
Full Metal Jacket has enough action and violence to satisfy the audience who favor the genre, but also adds in a character focused and even humorous element to the film, which works to balance with the tragedy and darkness war brings. The humor and tragedy is shown through the protagonist Private ‘Joker’, who uses humor to deal with the training and war. Well, his character is not exactly a comedian, but he earns the name ‘Joker’ as the film progresses. He starts out as a very reserved and somewhat shy person; he is also a bit of a follower during the training camp, and does not come into his Joker persona until he is sent to war.
A film about war is of course going to include tragedy and horror. How does a war film stand out compared to other war films? Add in some unique characters and some humor, and let them evolve as individuals and not simply soldiers. The darkest moment for me in the film wasn’t a war scene, but when Joker finds Private Snowball sitting in the dark bathroom in the middle of the night with a shotgun. Snowball had reached his limit mentally. Not even Joker, the only person who is friends with him (save for when he joined the other me in beating Snowball in his sleep with the pillows cases filled with bars of soap), can stop him from the tragedy to come. Private Snowball shoots the loud mouth Sgt and then shoots himself. But we do not get to see Joker’s or any of the other soldier’s reaction to this. They were, along with the Sgt, the bullies who pushed him to this breaking point. Snowball’s character is a study of how delicate the mind how ugly the human condition can be. Below are photos of Private Snowball.
The movie moves up in time to where Joker is in the field.
More tragedy comes, but for the film to help the audience recover from such a sad scene, comedy is thrown in, mainly coming from soldiers’ joking around with each other, and even insulting one another to get laughs. This is to show the community within the military, after training, and how people can live together. Some of the humor is dark. Much of it is. For instance, when Private Joker says to the media, “I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.” He alludes to killing as a way of competing with his comrades, a sort of sport, opposed to survival.
In training camp, it was high school all over again, but the soldiers evolved into a community when in combat. The movie starts with Private Joker being hesitant and reserved and less himself, but one who went along with crowd. .However, as the film moves on, Joker becomes just that, ‘Joker’, someone known and more himself, and less of a follower, but a ‘Joker’. The scene when he is confronted by Animal Mother (what a name!)
Below is the dialogue from their confrontation:
“Private Joker: Well, they call me the Joker.
Animal Mother: Well I got a joke for you. I’m gonna tear you a new asshole.
Private Joker: [doing a John Wayne impression] Well, pilgrim, only after you eat the peanuts out of my shit!
Animal Mother: You talk the talk. Do you walk the walk?”
This is someone who walks his own walk, Joker, and Animal Mother who has established himself and seems a bit confrontational to newcomers. Or, does Animal Mother see something in Joker causing him to challenge him. Nonetheless, these two have an unusual bond, different morals but nonetheless working together.
At the end of the film, Joker and Animal Mother come across a native lady lying scared and crying on the ground. Animal Mother hints for Joker to kill her, but he doesn’t. I felt this is him fighting for and keeping his individuality opposed to going along with what others say and do. He makes HIS decision, and it is his protest to the brutality of the war, outside of the kill-to- survive role.
Some of the humor comes through the characters’ mockery of their personas, such as when the gunner on the helicopter, who exaggerates about his “kills” as if it is a game. The actor seems to be mocking the macho, egotistical, persona. The John “Bad Ass” Tom type. Despite him being serious, his mockery and shocking comments to Joker’s question concerning who he has shot, can produce an impulsive laugh, kind as the Gunnery Sergeant did during the training scenes. He is a real jerk, but he makes people laugh when he ridicules, yells, and attacks the trainees.
Another rather dark yet humorous comment comes from Animal Mother in response to a comment regarding freedom and the Vietnam War:
Animal Mother: “You’d better flush out your head, new guy. This isn’t about freedom; this is a slaughter. If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is “poontang”.
Humor such as this pops into scenes to wash away some of the darkness.
Through Joker, audiences see a young man, hesitant and scared in a boot camp, doing what it takes to survive and not get a beating in his sleep, or something stuffed in his mouth… Showing emotions seems to be the “no, no.” Snowball does this. When Joker befriends Snowball, I think he shows his move to be an individual and not care what the other men think of him.
Joker is brave, a jerk, a follower, funny, nice…He goes through many emotional transformations as he evolves throughout the movie from training to fighting in the Vietnam War.
Above is a scene when the soldiers sing a Micky Mouse song as they walk through an environment destroyed by war and filled with death. This may be considered a light shining in the dark moment.