Full Metal Jacket (1987) is the story of the Vietnam War seen through the eyes of a US Marine known to the audience as "Joker". The movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is split into two parts. The first part follows Joker alongside his fellow Marine recruits through Boot Camp as they suffer under the colorful Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and the second part follows Joker's struggle to keep his humanity while he covers the Vietnam War as a combat correspondent during the Tet Offensive of 1968.The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel "The Short-Timers" by former Marine Gustav Hasford published in 1979. The novel is split into three sections (the film merges the second and third into a single part) and features more complex writing as the story progresses.The title refers to the type of ammunition used by military rifles. A full metal jacket is a copper coating on the outside of a bullet that prevents it from deforming or breaking apart on impact (as well as keeping it from slowly filling the rifling with lead), as is required per the Hague Convention. According to the highest moral authority on the planet, it is acceptable to shoot people with these bullets (as opposed to bullets which are designed to deform or splinter when they hit their targets, which generally makes for a much nastier wound).
Provides examples of:
Acoustic License: The scene in the helicopter where the gunner is getting interviewed while firing his gun. Everyone can hear each other as long as they SHOUT.
All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Marine base at Da Nang comes under attack by the NVA. The invasion is easy repelled, but this an exception in the middle of a general offensive all over the country.
Anti-Villain: Hartman is a jerk and treats his recruits like shit. But after all he's just doing his job to motivate the recruits properly to turn them into Marines.
Hartman: My orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?
The All Solving Hammer: At first Hartman calmly tells Pyle to place the weapon on the deck and step away. When Pyle doesn't comply, Hartman reverts to his default method of persuasion. The fact that Hartman's solution to a clearly deranged recruit pointing a loaded rifle at him is to insult him seems to imply that he had gotten it in his head that he could solve any problem by yelling at it. Partially Truth in Television; while this is standard procedure in the military, and while it's taught that nine times out of ten a show of strong force will cause a person to back down, there is a world of difference between a show of force and needlessly insulting and antagonizing a seriously disturbed man with a loaded gun. Someone having a massive mental breakdown with a loaded gun is not what standard procedure is designed for.
The Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed that the recruits recite before lights out is an abridged version of the real one.
A subversion: Private Cowboy is from Texas, yet he's going through boot camp at Parris Island. While not impossible, it's more likely that he would be going through boot camp at USMC Recruit Depot, San Diego, which is for male recruits who live west of the Mississippi River, while Parris Island is for male recruits who live east of the Mississippi River. However, this is quite minor, since recruits from west of the Mississippi can request to go to Parris Island, and the Marine Corps has sent recruits to the opposite depot when one experiences a shortage of recruits.
R. Lee Ermey, formerly a real-life Drill Sergeant Nasty, once said in an interview, that a drill instructor would never slap, choke or punch a recruit (at least openly), even back in his day as a young Marine. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is also far more verbally abusive in the movie than what is permitted in real-life.
In the book Sergeant Gerheim (as he was known) isn't near as vulgar, but calls people into his office or the showers to beat them in private. He encourages other punishments -some worse- or orders the other recruits to perform them.
Gerheim: Ready, Whiz!
Ermey, in an interview, once recalled that story and pointed out that any DI who ever tried something like that would never have been able to command respect among his recruits again.
Asian Hooker Stereotype: This movie is a famous example, with it's infamous line "Me so horny. Me love you long time. Me sucky sucky". The second half of the movie takes place in Vietnam, yet the hooker saying this line, another hooker and her pimp in a later scene, and the sniper are the only Vietnamese characters who get any dialogue at all.
Asshole Victim: As much as Sgt. Hartman having to do his job (as mentioned above), it may be hard to feel sorry for him when he gets killed by Private Pyle.
A-Team Firing: Sort of in the sniper scene. When Eightball is shot, the group starts shooting at the two front buildings. Then Doc Jay goes to recover him and gets shot too. Then when Animal Mother reaches them, he realizes that there's only a sniper, far behind in a distant building, and that they've wasted bullets shooting at literally nothing.. Justified as it's meant as suppression fire.
"God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see! He plays His games, we play ours! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls!"
The door gunner thinks his deeds are something to brag about.
Door gunner You guys ought to do a story about me sometime [...] cause I'm so fucking good! That ain't no shit, neither. I've done got me 157 dead gooks killed and 50 water buffaloes, too! Them are all certified.
Bad Boss: Hartman is an unforgiving sergeant who goes around insulting, punching, punishing, and yelling at his recruits, would-be soldiers he intends to weed out.
Joker: I wanted to see exotic Vietnam... the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.
Black Comedy Rape: Male on female. Not actual rape but a joke about it. While in the barracks, Stork, a white Marine jokes with Payback, a black Marine, "How do you stop five black men from raping a white woman?" Answer: "Throw them a basketball."
Black Is Bigger in Bed: "No boom-boom with the soul brother". At one point, a hooker initially refuses to sleep with an African-American man because of his so-called "Alabama blacksnake". 8-ball has to graphically debunk it.
Blood Knight: Joker proclamations about his joining the Corps to be a killer aren't purely sarcastic. Straighter examples in Animal Mother and Crazy Earl.
Crazy Earl: I will never forget this day. The day I came to Hue City and fought one million N.V.A. gooks. I love the little Commie bastards, man, I really do. These enemy grunts are as hard as slant-eyed drill instructors. These are great days we're living, bros! We are jolly green giants, walking the earth with guns. These people we wasted here today ... are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss not having anyone around that's worth shooting.
Booby Trap: An extremely dastardly one, to boot. A stuffed rabbit attached to a hidden antipersonnel mine, the sort of thing that was all too common in the real war.
Break the Fatty: Private Gomer Pyle gets it worse than the rest of the recruits due to being overweight and mentally slow, most of it at the hands of the original Drill Sergeant Nasty. The worst of it comes when the other recruits, pissed off after the entire platoon was punished due to Hartman finding a jelly doughnut in Pyle's foot locker, throw him a blanket party by pinning him to his bunk with a blanket and beating the crap out of him with bars of soap wrapped in bath towels. All this eventually leads to his psychotic breakdown, his murder of Hartman and his ultimate suicide.
In a meeting with his fellow "Stars and Stripes" personnel, Joker and the other Marines are being informed by their CO, Lt. Lockhart, of upcoming events, one of which is a USO visit by actress, Ann-Margret. A few scenes later, after being informed by Lt. Lockhart about the Tet offensive by the NVA and how bad the situation is, Joker, asks, after a few moments of silence, "Sir, does this mean that Ann-Margret's not coming?"
The whole bit about Joker wanting to bang Cowboy's sister. It's the first thing they reminisce about when they reunite in Vietnam.
Joker references actor John Wayne during both segments. First in the boot camp segment, in his very first line in the film, when he says out loud and in Wayne's voice, after Gunny Hartman's opening speech, "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?". He repeats the line later during the Vietnam segment, while the Marines are being filmed while going into Hue to take the city back from the NVA.
"A world of shit". Gunny Hartman first tells the recruits during marksmanship training that this is what they will be in if they hesitate in combat. It's referred to at the end of both of segments. At the end of the boot camp segment, Joker, after, finding the crazy Leonard in the head with his rifle, tell him that if Hartman catches them, they'll "both be in a world of shit" to which Leonard replies, "I AM...in a world...of shit." At the end of the Vietnam segment, Joker says, during his closing narration, "I am in a world of shit."
The Real Life Marine Corps Rifle Prayer. It's first said by the recruits in unison as they're lying in bed before lights out. It's later repeated partially and very loudly by Leonard after he snaps and is in the head with his rifle.
Mickey Mouse is referred to at the end of both segments. At the end of the boot camp segment, Gunny Hartman yells "What is this Mickey Mouse shit." At the end of the Vietnam segment, the Marines are singing the theme song to The Mickey Mouse Club as they march away from the burning city of Hue. Also a Freeze-Frame Bonus: look toward the background of Lt. Lockhart's office at the right time and guess what you'll see? Figurines of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Probably the darkest call back of the whole movie. Joker gets heckled for claiming he's seen combat when the veterans listen to his badass boasts. Payback calls B.S. on him because he doesn't have the thousand-yard-stare. Much later, in the last moments of the movie, Joker wills himself to finish off a teenage sniper... and as the tension and shock from pulling the trigger wears off, he's transfixed with a thousand-yard-stare of his own.
Camp Follower: There are two scenes in the movie focused on prostitution.
Cargo Ship: In-universe example. Gunny Hartman orders the recruits to give their rifle a girl's name "Because this is the only pussy you people are going to get!" Private Pyle, after he goes insane, seems more than a little doting over his rifle (Charlene, if you were wondering).
Door gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much.
Cool and Unusual Punishment: Hartman reacts to Pyle taking a jelly donut by... forcing him to eat while everyone else does pushups (he does so nearly crying... but goes on to actually do that when they respond by tying him down to his bunk and beat him with bars of soap).
Coup de Grâce: Joker gives one to the teenage VC sniper despite the rest of his squad wanting to leave her to die.
Creator Cameo: Stanley Kubrick is Murph, the voice on the other end of the radio when Joker's squad calls for tank support.
Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Hartman makes threats like: "I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!" and "I will gouge out your eyeballs and skullfuck you!"
Deadly Euphemism: Openly admitted to by Lt. Lockhart when he tells one of the "Stars and Stripes" Marines to substitute the phrase "Search and Destroy" with "Sweep and Clear".
Deadpan Snarker: Joker. (Hence, his name.) Which sticks with him after boot camp which usually doesn't happen since most nicknames are derogatory. In this case, Joker probably liked the name enough to possibly introduce himself to the other Marines at Stars and Stripes, making himself even more a Joker.
Gunny Hartman. More emphasis on this in the book than in the movie. In the book, when he gets shot, before he dies, he says " Private Pyle, I'm so proud." (He's glad that was finally able to make him a killer, which he had been struggling to do all through boot camp.)
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Which drove Kubrick absolutely bonkers. Even when he tried to make war as shitty as possible, some people still got off to things like the heli gunner shooting the civilians, and the dehumanizing boot camp led by theDrill Sergeant Nasty.
Hartman: What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn't mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?
General Ripper: The colonel who gives Joker grief over the peace-symbol button he's wearing.
"Inside every Vietnamese is an American fighting to get out."
Genre Savvy: Cowboy knows better than to try recovering the wounded Marines shot by the sniper because he knows from experience that the sniper is just trying to lure them into the line of fire one by one. Animal Mother, on the other hand, though not Genre Blind, just doesn't care. After all, his best friends are getting shot up.
Gunnery Sgt. Hartman: Because I am hard, you will not like me. The more you hate me the more you will learn. I am hard, but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers! Here you are all equally worthless!
Important Haircut: The opening montage is of new recruits undergoing the ritual head shave of the Marines.
Intimidation Demonstration: After a Vietnamese boy steals a camera and tosses it to his friend on a bike, he turns around and starts doing a series of palm strikes in the air and making fierce screams, then does a spin kick. Joker then proceeds to imitate him from a distance.
Irony: Joker puts a peace sign in his helmet, on which is written "Born to Kill" ("I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.")
Courtesy of Sgt. Hartman: "There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers."
Just Plane Wrong: A minor offender - the helicopter which transports Joker and Rafter Man to Hue is British built Westland Wessex - a licence variant of Sikorsky HUS-1/UH-34 used by the USMC in the war, but powered by turboshaft engines and thus with minor yet visible visual differences.
In-universe, done intentionally by Joker. In a meeting with his fellow "Stars and Stripes" Marines, after being informed by Lt. Lockhart about the Tet offensive by the NVA and how bad the situation is, Joker, asks, after a few moments of silence, "Sir, does this mean that Ann Margaret's not coming?"
There are numerous mood whiplashes in the film: 1. The opening 3-4 minutes with the heads being shaved followed by Hartman's rant are somewhat amusing. We could all relate to Pyle's stupid little grin, until he choked him and asked "are you through grinning yet?" He was, and so was the audience. 2. Rounds and rounds of fire being exchanged, cease fire, tense moments of silence.....Then "Surfer Bird." 3. Standing over the body of their dead commander: "you're going home now". "Semper Fi". "We're mean Marines sir". "Better you than me."
After meeting Joker, Hartman ironically tells him that "you can come over to my house and fuck my sister." Followed by a punch to Joker's gut.
Subverted; while cleaning the head (bathroom) Joker says to Cowboy "I wanna slip my tube steak into your sister. What'll you take in trade?" to which Cowboy simply replies "What've you got?" Cowboy later brings it up again in Vietnam, when he ask if Joker has been getting any to which Joker replies, "Only your sister".
Never Trust a Trailer: Not quite a trailer, but the film was promoted with an official Stupid Statement Dance Mix of the same title which was a big hit in the UK. Not only did it imply the film was more of a knockabout comedy, it was also entirely unrepresentative of the movie's actual soundtrack.
Nice Hat: Sgt Hartman is never once seen without his hat. Even in the bathroom confrontation.
Try and find a USMC Drill Instructor without his campaign cover. While Marines don't wear covers indoors except under arms, DI's are a notable exception.
The Nicknamer: GySgt. Hartman. His nicknames stick, even after the candidates graduate from boot camp.
Nicknaming the Enemy: The Marines casually use the disparaging word "gook" more often than "Vietnamese". The neutral moniker "Charlie" is also used sporadically.
No Indoor Voice: Hartman yells at the top of his voice when he gets his dander up.
Rafterman: You know what really pisses me off about these people?
Rafterman: We're supposed to be helping them, and they shit all over us every chance they get. I just can't feature that.
Joker: Don't take it too hard, Rafterman, it's just business.
No One Gets Left Behind: Cowboy actually wanted to leave Eightball and Doc Jay behind, realizing that they couldn't save them anyway, and the sniper is trying to lure the rest of the Marines out. However, Animal Mother refused to follow his orders.
Parental Incest: Joked about by Cowboy after he meets up with Joker in Vietnam.
Cowboy: Been getting any?
Joker: Only your sister.
Cowboy: Well, better my sister than my mom, and my mom ain't bad.
Pet the Dog: Hartman gives Pyle a genuine compliment as he observes him at the rifle range.
Hartman: Outstanding, Private Pyle. I think we finally found something that you do well!
There is a cruel subversion earlier on. At one point Hartman sings Happy Birthday to the parade, implying that it is a special day for one of the recruits, only he ends it with "Happy Birthday Dear Jesus" and it's Christmas... with no letters or presents, just a mandatory chapel service.
A Real Man Is a Killer: An implicit motto of the Corps, which serves to underscore the dehumanization motifs. The recruits stop being pukes and maggots when they become Marines, the Marines want killers, not robots and a full-fledged Marine only hatches after gaining the Thousand-Yard Stare, often associated with his first kill.
Refuge in Audacity: When confronted by Hartman, Joker sticks to his skepticism regarding the Virgin Mary because he identifies the situation as a Morton's Fork where he would be punished more if he changes his stance. Hartman is impressed and immediately promotes him to squad leader.
Sgt. Hartman: Private Joker is silly and he's ignorant but he has guts, and guts is enough.
Right Hand Versus Left Hand: Private Pyle has trouble distinguishing left from right. So Hartman decides to slap a sense of direction into him.
Sadistic Choice: As a result of the Pinned Down situation described above. Do you watch your friend scream in agony as a sniper continues to riddle his body with bullets, or run out to help him, likely getting yourself killed as well as a result?
Sanity Slippage: Pvt. Pyle can't hack it until he gets broken, gradually becoming a deranged and alienated sociopath afterwards.
Whoring and comparing body counts are the most popular hobbies in 'Nam.
Inverted by the Viet Cong; they launch the Tet offensive during the Vietnamese New Year to surprise the Americans, who had assumed the party would halt the warring. Joker brings up rumors about a breaking of the cease-fire agreement, but his Lieutenant disregards it.
Semper Fi: Gunny Hartman believes that the Marines are an elite unit of killers. However, the Marines we see in Vietnam are largely disorganized and demotivated, and they aren't very effective against the VC sniper who turns out to be a teenage girl.
The lateral travelling shots where a crew is filming the soldiers is an homage to a similar scene in Apocalypse Now.
There are several loving homages to the 1957 film The DI, staring Jack Webb.
Joker name drops Carl Jung, whose psychological theory emphasizes that a healthy man embraces his feminine side. Contrary to that, the film is awash in symbolic (and at the end, very literal) instances of degradation and destruction of the feminine, because according to the Marine Corps, A Real Man Is a Killer.
Animal Mother qualifies to a fault, especially when pissed.
Shown Their Work: Except for some minor inaccuracies here and there, the film shows Kubrick's usual meticulousness applied to a military setting. It's a testament to the work that even decades after its 1987 release, modern recruits get some savviness about what to expect in training thanks to the film, which is a period piece of the 60s.
Slasher Smile: Pvt. Pyle sports one when Joker finds him with his rifle.
Where do we start... Animal Mother is probably the most spectacular example, as is the Door Gunner.
The entire point of the film. See how Leonard has to become crazy to be a good soldier. This is keeping with the concept of dehumanization.
Hartman gloats about the Marine-taught shooting prowess of Austin sniper Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald. Doubly obnoxious because Whitman's massacre would have been barely a year old by the time the movie was set.
Hartman himself gets a few minor examples in that some of the disciplinary tactics he reserves for Pyle arguably cross into psychological abuse territory.
Sock It To Them: The infamous "blanket party" scene, where everyone puts a bar of soap in a sock, and participates in a run-by pummeling of Leonard.
Sound Off: You'll hear some Jody calls during the first act, and you'll also hear the Mickey Mouse Club theme song used as a marching song in the second act.
Starter Villain: Hartman is only there for the first act but he's as close to a villain as the movie gets.
Strawman News Media: Minor examples of both of Type 2 and Type 3 with Lt. Lockhart. He explains to Joker that the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper needs to run positive stories about the war because of the negative stories being run by the media back in the States.
Lockhart: Joker, I've told you, we run two basic stories here; grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants; winning of hearts and minds—okay? And combat action that results in a kill; winning the war.
Lockhart: Joker, maybe you'd like our guys to read the paper and feel bad. I mean, in case you didn't know it, this is not a particularly popular war, and it's our job to report the news that the "why-are-we-here" civilian newsmen ignore.
Take That: Hartman unleashing his inner critic on Lawrence:
Hartman: You're so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!
Tank Goodness: Played straight during the scenes where the Marines are approaching Hue and entering Hue. Subverted during the Pinned Down scene where Cowboy attempts to call in tank support only to be told they have to wait.
Tanks, But No Tanks: Also a minor offender - during combat in Hue City, the tanks employed are actually light tanks M41 Walker Bulldognote This type was used in combat only by the ARVN during the Vietnam War., not M48 Patton medium tanks used by the USMC tank battalions in the Real Life battle. On the other hand, M41 is visually quite similar to M48, and both camera angles used and editing made very difficult to actually notice the difference when casually watching the film.
Tempting Fate: Happens subtly. "I am fucking bored to death, man!" Not for long, you aren't.
Thousand-Yard Stare: Payback says that you can see that Joker is a new guy, because he haven't got the thousand-yard stare. "A Marine gets it after he's been in the shit for too long. It's like... it's like you've really seen beyond. I got it. All field Marines got it." Joker ends up getting it too after he kills the Viet Cong sniper.
That's an Order: Said by Cowboy to Animal Mother when Cowboy tells him to wait for the tank and not to try recovering the wounded Marines shot by the sniper, to which Animal Mother responds with a big "fuck you".
Title Drop: Courtesy of Leonard, as he talks lovingly (and creepily) about the ammunition for his rifle. So very Kubrickian.
Yes, continue to taunt the broken and apparently psychotic recruit who is pointing a loaded weapon at you.Brilliant, Sergeant Hartman.
Noble as it may be, when you've just seen someone shot by a sniper, it's probably wise not to walk into the same line of fire to recover him.
Hey, Cowboy, maybe you shouldn't hide behind the part of the wall with a big hole in it. *BAM* Never mind.
Took a Level in Badass: Pyle, believe it or not. He loses weight and learns how to act like a Marine after he gets a harsh lesson in conformity from his fellow recruits. Unfortunately, he turns Ax-Crazy at the same time.
Trademark Favorite Food: Played with by Gunny Hartman when he tells a black recruit named Private Snowball that Snowball won't like that "they don't serve fried chicken and watermelon on a daily basis in my mess hall", referring to the foods that black people are stereotyped as liking.
Training from Hell: The first act of the movie which focuses on the recruits going through US Marine Corps boot camp which is generally considered the toughest initial training of the American military branches. Though the only one the audience really sees it as being "from hell" for is Pyle.
Traumatic Haircut: Boot camp, opening scene. You even see a small thicket of hair piled up on the floor afterward.
Try Not to Die: Otherwise "you'll be in a world of shit, because Marines are not allowed to die without permission!"
Verbal Tic: Door gunner. "Get some, get some, yeah, get some, get some, get some, get some!"
Interestingly enough, in the time it takes him to say "get some", three shots are fired. Not just a tic, but fire discipline.
The Vietnam War: Obviously. The events can be dated by the Tet Offensive. The second segment takes place in 1968 and the instruction in 1967.
Viewers Are Geniuses: During the scene with a mass grave of Vietnamese casualties, Joker says the bodies are being covered in lime, a comment that might confuse viewers unfamiliar with chemistry. It's also known as "quicklime" or calcium oxide, a powder that readily absorbs water from moist air or skin. The result is calcium hydroxide, an extremely corrosive chemical that quickly destroys body tissues.
War Is Glorious: During his speech upon meeting the new recruits, Hartman tells them that if they get through boot camp, they "will be a minister of death praying for war."
Where Da White Women At?: While in the barracks, Stork, a white Marine, jokes with Payback, a black Marine, "How do you stop five black men from raping a white woman?" Answer: "Throw them a basketball."
Crazy Earl: These enemy grunts are as hard as slant-eyed drill instructors.... These people we wasted here today ... are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss not having anyone around that's worth shooting.