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Themes and Characters of Full Metal Jacket

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Themes and Characters of Full Metal Jacket

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Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick is a war film that stars characters like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Leonard Lawrence (Gomer Pyle), and protagonist James Davis (Joker). The film shows how War can change people to what they are not, either transforming them to blood-thirsty soldiers, or breaking their minds, driving them beyond reason. The one positive aspect of war is the brotherhood that sparks between the men. Full Metal Jacket depicts all the psychological tests men undergoes to become soldiers, and how some fight to keep their humanity. Full Metal Jacket stands more as an anti-war film. It shows the ugliness of war and the potential for violence in almost every man, especially when indoctrinated and dehumanized in training, to condition men into military service.

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The film by Kubrick starts with military indoctrination, where young men at the boot camp on Paris Island has their hairs shave. This transformation of losing all their hairs symbolizes conformity to the system of Marine Corps, each man saying goodbye to their old self as they are reborn to new self; ready to follow orders of an authority. Hartman, a drill instructor in charge of the platoon, training is tough, hard, intimidating, and shows no emotions. He feels the best way to inspire and transform his men and have them follow his orders is by instilling fear, raining insults and giving them abusive nicknames. The first word that comes out of his mouth as he introduces himself to the recruits is dehumanizing: 'I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor; from now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be Sir. Do you maggots understand?' This attitude from Hartman breaks the mind of Pyle while others are able to withstand him. In Richard Rambuss review of the movie, he explains that military service is no joke. New recruits learn quickly that the person next to you matters, as one can sink or swim depending on the reaction of who is around you (98-102). Hartman does his job as a military trainer, but wrong in using harsh words on the recruits at all times, not understanding that everyone might not be at the same level psychologically. His real failure is his inability to recognize that Pyle is unfit for service and should be sent home.

Hartman, a model of military masculinity, dehumanized the recruits as he calls them “ladies” implying weakness and incompetence. He renames them as he feels, taking away their civilian names. He wants to transform them into killing machines by telling them that a good marine is a killing machine and without their rifles they are useless, taking away their empathy for other human beings. Hartman teaches violent masculinity when he makes the recruits to march grabbing on their genitals, he made Pyle march with his pants around his ankle while sucking on his thumb, humiliating their manhood. Hartmans’ abuses causes Pyle insanity, and his eventual death from Pyle’s rifle, because Hartman refuses to understand that his training is not working. At the point where he sees Pyle waving his loaded rifle, he could have calmed him down, rather his famous last words are what he knows best to do, as he has succeeded in turning Pyle into a cold-blooded, ruthless killer. 'What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?! Didn't Mommy and Daddy hug you enough when you were a child?!' Then, proving why insulting a mentally unstable person with a gun is a bad idea, Hartman is shot through the heart by Pyle.

Leonard Lawrence is an obese, soft, good natured man who earns the name 'Gomer Pyle' by Hartman; which means a clumsy soldier that does nothing right. He struggles and fails to meet the expectations of the Marine Corp physically, mentally and otherwise. He lacks the personality traits of becoming a marine. This leads to his constant brutality by Hartman who dehumanizes him by calling him names more than he does to his other squad members. Some dehumanizing insults from Hartman are: 'Only faggots and sailors are called Lawrence' you are so ugly, what’s your name fat boy... you suck dick, get on your knee scumbag... choke yourself numb-nuts, get your fat ass up there... you are a worthless piece of shit Pyle...get out of my face, am gonna ripe your balls out, so you don't contaminate the rest of the Corp. Unresponsive to Hartman's harsh discipline, Pyle goes off the deep end due to Hartmans’ abuses, in combination with being brutalize by his platoon who is upset with him because Hartman punishes them for his misdeeds. These incidents make Pyle to reinvent himself as a model Marine, changing from goofy guy to more emotionally distant, and scary individual. After graduation, Pyle suffers a severe mental breakdown, loading his rifle with live ammunition. He executes drill commands and loudly recites the Rifleman's Creed. In Patricia Gruben review of the movie: “this shows how the trainings, series of abuse from Hartman and the feeling that his squad hates him has seriously dements Pyle, up until he becomes maniacal, and suicidal” (270-271). The scene where he is talking to his gun shows just how much people can be dehumanized by the experience of basic military training. When he reaches a certain state, Pyle feels like he must not only kill his enemy Hartman, but has to commit suicide, even his fellow recruit Joker cannot change his mind.

James Davis is a military journalist renamed as “Joker” by Sergeant Hartman when he challenges him during his training. He is a person who stands up for what he believes and that gains him respect from Hartman who promotes him to platoon leader. Joker is a compassionate man who unlike Hartman, recognises Pyle’s inabilities and tries to help him. Perhaps, his kindness saves his life when Pyle proceeds to aim his rifle at him, but remembers he is the only one who has shown him some kindness. Joker calms him down by calling him Leonard and saying 'take it easy man,' which seems to trigger memories in Pyle as he spares Joker's life. Joker, in his mind has divided loyalties, as part of him condemns war and the other is hard and wants to kill, depicting that in his peace symbol, and his helmet which reads “born to kill.” That is how Joker sees the duality of man as a soldier, to kill or to protect. He makes jokes of those who put on tough guys face just as he did to Animal mother as they met first time. Joker is literate, a thinker, and someone who clearly opposes senseless violence. This clearly shows on him when he is unable to pull his triggers on the sniper girl that kills some of his team, but at the end could give a mercy kill to the sniper.

In conclusion, Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick shows how war can affect peoples’ personalities and life in many ways. Young recruits joining the war should be well assessed before recruitment to avoid unforeseen circumstances. Hard core training is good because war is no jokes but trainers should understand that personalities differ, and every human have their own weaknesses, so should be mindful of the use of derogatory words which can make or destroy a man.

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