Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My game.
It’s 1968, and a group of Marine recruits are being prepped for Vietnam. They are led by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, who ruthlessly pushes them to be the “best killers” possible. One of these recruits, Leonard Lawrence, nicknamed “Gomer Pyle” by Hartman, cannot keep up with the others, and is repeatedly punished and hazed. This leads to him losing his sanity, and to some rather tragic events on the night of their graduation. But this is only the beginning, as the rest of the Marines, including Sergeant’s Joker and Cowboy, are shipped off to South Vietnam, where they find the horrors of war waiting for them.
Full Metal Jacket is widely considered a classic, and contains some of the most recognizable lines in film history. If you’ve ever wondered where “me love you long time” comes from, here’s your answer. And yet, for all the hype, for all the praise people like to heap on it, I’d never actually seen the movie until today, and most people my age I’ve talked to haven’t either. Part of this is due to the fact that we live in a world of review aggregators, where we accept that something is a classic because a bunch of people online tell us that it is. For this reason, I decided to give Full Metal Jacket a look, and find out for myself if it was actually any good.
Well, having actually seen Full Metal Jacket, I can safely say that it’s reputation isn’t wholly without merit. There are some absolutely gorgeous shots in this film, and the production design is amazing. This, coupled with a stand out performance by R Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, make the first half of this film extremely watchable. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the second, and much longer, half isn’t nearly as good. Whereas the first half follows traditional dramatic structure, with characters changing, and scenes and stakes building up to a climax, the second half meanders about without much purpose. We get a bunch of pointless scenes that never get brought up again, like the soldiers talking to reporters, bidding on a prostitute, and mocking a dead VC. And whereas the first half is very clearly anti-war, the second half is much more ideologically muddled, with the protagonist, Joker, actually saying that he is “happy,” after killing a child. And even though I know that this film was made back in the 80s, and there was a lot of racism in the Vietnam War, I was truly put off by how many times the words “gook” and “zipperhead” were used in this movie. I don’t think the characters in this film ever referred to Vietnamese people as Vietnamese. It was always one of the two aforementioned racial slurs. And while the film doesn’t shy away from mocking other races, with many of the black characters getting called the n word, the latter group are at least given names, and dialogue that isn’t in broken English. The Vietnamese are completely dehumanized in this picture, and it really made me, an Asian American viewer, uncomfortable.
So, overall, I think that the first half of Full Metal Jacket is very well crafted, but that the second half is uneven, and tonally inconsistent. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably should, just because it’s an iconic movie. But go in knowing that the second half meanders, and that there are a LOT of racial slurs used throughout.