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FULL METAL JACKET no longer does it for me
#1
Spoilers, if you still haven't seen it. Of course, if you still haven't seen it, fuck you.

There was a time in my youth during which I worshiped all things Kubrick except for The Shining, which I felt as a King fan that he had gotten wrong. Cut to many, many years later. I've seen a lot more classic films, developed a more evolved sense of what I think great filmmaking means, and am no longer much of a Stephen King fan. After rewatching The Shining last year, and Full Metal Jacket this year, I find that I have flip-flopped. The Shining is brilliant. I now consider it better than the book.

Full Metal Jacket? Not so much. That saddens me. In a strange way, it's the dramatic equivalent of Stripes. It's fully alive and engaging so long as we're still in boot camp, then falls on its face directly afterwards. The big difference is that Full Metal Jacket begins to tip over at the end of boot camp, while Stripes ends that section beautifully. The problem is that Kubrick either allowed or instructed D'Onofrio to go way too far over the top. I lean toward instructed, partly because D'Onofrio has shown greater subtlety since, and partly because he's filmed exactly like Nicholson in The Shining. It's a panting, wheezing psycho performance that makes Pyle come across more as possessed than as someone who snapped under pressure. I would have preferred to see a glimpse of the poor, lost doofus still trapped in there somewhere, especially just before he offs himself.

Even given this little misstep, it feels like once that incident happens, the point of the film has been made very well. Once we actually get to Vietnam, the rest feels like wheel-spinning by comparison, as the story's theme is restated and reiterated with new characters. Modine's protagonist doesn't appear to learn, change, or develop, or even make any new statements. The theme of the military creating killers at the cost of basic humanity is simply explored at greater length, but with less power than the climactic scene of boot camp. Even the final scene, though undeniably discomforting, fails to gather the simple power of D'Onofrio's final moments.

I'm disappointed. At least I have my newfound appreciation of The Shining to balance the scales. And I'll always have Dr. Strangelove. That one's never getting old.
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#2
I couldn't agree with this assessment more Greg and have always thought so when it comes to Jacket.

I always called it "50% of the greatest army/'nam film ever made". The first half is so incredibly powerful, such a complete and total master-class seemingly making every point that the film wants to get across overall that the second half always felt pretty much redundant to me.

In fact the strength of the first half is what helps make the second such a let down. A lot of other Vietnam films did the whole "War in the jungle is a special kind of hell" thing so much better, what seperated Jacket was its first half.

...and no matter how good I am at suspending disbelief I could never get away from the fact that England does not look and could never look anything like Vietnam.

But that first half is unmitigated brilliance.
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#3
Quote:

Originally Posted by The Rain Dog
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...and no matter how good I am at suspending disbelief I could never get away from the fact that England does not look and could never look anything like Vietnam.

But, the palm trees ,man!! There's no palm trees in England!
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#4
I've got to watch again because it's been a long time, but I suspect I'll agree. I'm having trouble remembering many specifics about Joker's tale after he gets to Vietnam, while the first half remains crystal clear. Maybe the second half simply pales because the first half is relatively rare in its focus on what it takes to create killers for the army, AND because there are a number of other quality films (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Solo) that also explore the second half's "war is hell" motif?

Then again, not to be sacriligious but Kubrick sometimes has a problem bringing his films home. As discussed in the You Got it All Wrong series and thread, A Clockwork Orange arguably begins to unravel after Alex has been "cured." And I really think the first 2/3 of Eyes Wide Shut, exploring the couple's relationship and their problems maintaining trust and fidelity,beat the pants off the sex party shenanigans and afterglow.
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#5
Quote:

Originally Posted by Greg David
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I would have preferred to see a glimpse of the poor, lost doofus still trapped in there somewhere, especially just before he offs himself.

Exactly how it's described in the script, oddly enough.

"Half a great movie" was the gist of many of the reviews upon release. Reviewers lamented that the film "aside from the Parris Island scenes, retain little of Kubrick's iconoclastic vision" or some such.

My dad, who was in Vietnam, gave this review at the time: "That was way more accurate than Platoon."
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#6
The first half is virtually flawless, agreed. I don't think that it falls totally flat in the second half, though. A few years ago, I watched it (accidentally) in two installments over two nights. Taken as a separate entity, the second half plays much better...indeed, it struck me as more of a satire than anything else.
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#7
Would all our problems with the film be gone if the boot camp stuff had been interspersed as flashbacks throughout the movie? Or would that make it worse?

I feel pretty much the same as you guys. The first "act" is so fucking good that it's hard to beat.
Kubrick's 'Nam is fake as hell, but somehow it works. Just a weird artificial look and feel to it, like his NYC in Eyes Wide Shut.
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#8
I disagree.

Now that's discussion.

Greg, I think you're wrong that Modine's Joker never changes or learns anything, because that's what I take from the final scene, that despite all his pseudo intellectual rambling and anti authoritarian stances, he has become a killer himself.

Yeah, there are bigger things working there, how he wants to just be an observer but gets dragged into the fight, how Adam Baldwin is one of the coolest people on the planet even when playing racist psycho scumbags, and the biggest question of all, why doesn't Arliss Howard get more work?

I know I'm selling the discussion short, but it has been a while since I've seen the thing, well, only like a year, but it's been even longer since I've had any decent discussion about the thing. Also, I'm retarded.
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#9
Has Matthew Modine ever walked into your office asking for directions? No?

I win.


Win what exactly, I don't know.
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#10
Quote:

Originally Posted by Vader
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Has Matthew Modine ever walked into your office asking for directions? No?

I win.


Win what exactly, I don't know.

Copies of Gross Anatomy and Wind.

Something else I wanted to add to my post from earlier, re: Pyle, I agree with the choice Kubes (I'm sure he would've loved my pet name) made, because there wasn't any humanity left in Pyle. Or, more accurately, there wasn't any innocence left in him. He is a man possessed. He is thrust from childhood into the killing machine.

Also, is Matthew Modine really supposed to have such a character arc? He is supposed to, to be flippant, represent the duality of man. Or he's supposed to represent us, be our in to the craziness. Either way, I don't think the movie fails because he doesn't have a traditional character arc.

In conclusion, we had lots of fun on our summer vacation and I still love the hell out of Full Metal Jacket. Both halves. Although I always wonder where the 'this movie is just ripping off The Boys in Company C' contingent are hiding.
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#11
Yeah, Pyle pretty much checked out after the towel party. He's not there anymore. Instead he's become exactly what they wanted him to be -- "you are definitely born-again hard," Hartman tells him, and he has been. And I always saw his final scene not so much him burying his inner doofus, but his inner doofus realizing what he's become and where he's headed and saying, "Enough, I'm done with this." And that's why he kills himself -- it's not that he knows he's screwed because he killed Hartman, it's because he's descended to a place he knows he can't come back from, even if those depths are justified by the madhouse of a war he's about to be shipped off to. His suicide is him reclaiming himself, not losing it.

As for the second half, I've long maintained that it shows how disturbingly necessary it was to turn these men into dehumanized killers, because if an idealist like Joker can finally succumb in the end, you're better off sending someone like Pyle over there. You don't send sane men to fight an insane war.
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#12
....and that's how Dickson earned his cookie for the day. No, TWO cookies.
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#13
Make sure to give him the quality stuff. Not that Hydrox/Chips Ahoy bullshit.
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#14
I will not stand for the badmouthing of Chips Ahoy. Simply won't stand for it.

Well put, Dickson. You basically said what I wanted to say, but alas, I suck at this.
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#15
Famous Amos > Chips Ahoy

Deal with it.
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#16
Fucking blaspheme.
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#17
Hey man, If I'm not allowed to stir shit up on occasion then show me where it says so. Either way, that's what I think.

I also think Fudge covered oreos are gross.
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#18
I think Oreos are gross in general.

By the way, does the lackluster feelings for the second half have to do with the ambiguity of Kubrick's message? I've seen the film two gazillion times and I've never been able to tell if it is firmly anti war, or if not pro war, a feeling that war is inevitable being as we're all shitty humans and everything. We might as well be prepared.
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#19
Jesus Christ, he's not 9 years old.

The man's going to get some Pepperidge Farms.
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#20
Quote:

Originally Posted by Richard Dickson
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Yeah, Pyle pretty much checked out after the towel party. He's not there anymore. Instead he's become exactly what they wanted him to be -- "you are definitely born-again hard," Hartman tells him, and he has been. And I always saw his final scene not so much him burying his inner doofus, but his inner doofus realizing what he's become and where he's headed and saying, "Enough, I'm done with this." And that's why he kills himself -- it's not that he knows he's screwed because he killed Hartman, it's because he's descended to a place he knows he can't come back from, even if those depths are justified by the madhouse of a war he's about to be shipped off to. His suicide is him reclaiming himself, not losing it.

That's an interesting interpretation, but unfortunately, I don't think what's shown in the film itself bears it out. It seems like a long stretch given the visual information. In fact, I'd venture to say that you put more thought into that moment than Kubrick did. I'd have loved that moment a lot more if what you're saying were actually demonstrated there. But as there's no real dialogue, and his facial expression never changes, we're left with little to go on. I think you're giving the scene more credit for character depth than it was actually going for.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Richard Dickson
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As for the second half, I've long maintained that it shows how disturbingly necessary it was to turn these men into dehumanized killers, because if an idealist like Joker can finally succumb in the end, you're better off sending someone like Pyle over there. You don't send sane men to fight an insane war.

I like this point better, and I can get behind it. I just didn't find that section of the film particularly interesting.
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#21
Quote:

Originally Posted by Keith Fordyce
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By the way, does the lackluster feelings for the second half have to do with the ambiguity of Kubrick's message? I've seen the film two gazillion times and I've never been able to tell if it is firmly anti war, or if not pro war, a feeling that war is inevitable being as we're all shitty humans and everything. We might as well be prepared.

I'm curious as to why you'd think that it's anything but anti-war. To me, it's one of the best anti-war movies, especially due to the last half. When the first half ends, the viewer, along with Joker, realizes the extent to which the boot camp process breaks these people down. But Joker emerges relatively unscathed. And since Joker is the viewer's surrogate, the rug is pulled when he finally breaks and Kubrick's thoughts on war come to a greater focus. If the movie ended with the death of Pyle, there would have still been a link between the viewer and Joker, a measure of sanity. With the breaking of the character most identify with, and the perfect final scene, does the film really drive home its themes on the insanity of war better than most Vietnam films.

But maybe you're right, and the anti-war interpretation is coming from my own bias. I've just never really thought of Kubrick as being cynical or arguing for the inevitability of war, just someone that put forth this film in an observant manner, articulating his thoughts without heavy-handedness (like Platoon).

Either way, the brilliance of the first half really does overwhelm the second.
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#22

The movie's on Netflix at the moment so I figured what the hey. I didn't want to start a new thread because I didn't want to lose this discussion.  Not that FULL METAL JACKET ever fails to stimulate further debate when it's brought up.  One of my favorite discussions is this one, which compares and contrasts the film with the other heavyhitters about Vietnam:



Quote:

To me the unalterable distinction between Platoon and Full Metal Jacket is that Platoon tells you exactly how to feel about practically every minute of the film, and Full Metal Jacket about practically none of it. And to me one of those options is simply a better kind of art.



Again, I really think people have a very hard time seeing Full Metal Jacket if they concentrate on what it isn't -- i.e. on how they think a war movie ought to behave -- than on watching how it does behave. I think with an artist of Kubrick's stature one owes it to him to go in with an open mind and see what is happening. Most of the negative reactions to Full Metal Jacket -- Ebert included -- are full of frustrated expectations that they have brought to the experience.

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#23

I really, really dislike FULL METAL JACKET.  The first half feels properly Kubrickian, but once the story shifts to Vietnam, I find the movie unfortunately pedestrian.  I know the movie has its defenders, but it's clearly lesser Kubrick, and made doubly depressing because it's the only movie he managed to get made in the 19 years between the releases of THE SHINING and EYES WIDE SHUT.

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#24
AI don't think the first half works very well, either. Pyle's descent into Jack Torrance-style cartoonish madness always strikes me as being out of step with all the other elements.
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#25

Kubrick definitely favors broad performances when it comes to depicting madness, which along with his symmetrical compositions always felt to me like an artifact of his background as a photographer.  He was almost approaching his material with the sensibilities of a silent film.



   

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#26
Quote:

Originally Posted by FatherDude View Post
 

 which along with his symmetrical compositions always felt to me like an artifact of his background as a photographer.


Which is odd because his early photography generally didn't seem to lean towards heavy symmetry.  They were often quite beautifully naturalistic to me.

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#27

Kubrick's sensibilities with respect to depicting madness are perfectly encapsulated by this story Steven Spielberg tells about the conversation he had with Kubrick after seeing THE SHINING for the first time.  Spielberg felt Nicholson was too broad.  Kubrick disagreed.





Kubrick had no problem with the notion that big, theatrical, broad performances could also be great performances, and appropriate to the material he was bringing to life.

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#28
A[quote name="FatherDude" url="/community/t/107985/full-metal-jacket-no-longer-does-it-for-me#post_4120569"]Kubrick definitely favors broad performances when it comes to depicting madness, which along with his symmetrical compositions always felt to me like an artifact of his background as a photographer.  He was almost approaching his material with the sensibilities of a silent film.


 
 

[/quote]
It works very well in the heightened realities of the first two movies.

It doesn't work as well in FULL METAL JACKET.
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#29

There's nothing naturalistic about that bathroom scene though.

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#30
A[quote name="Belloq87" url="/community/t/107985/full-metal-jacket-no-longer-does-it-for-me#post_4120574"]
Kubrick had no problem with the notion that big, theatrical, broad performances could also be great performances, and appropriate to the material he was bringing to life.
[/quote]
I love big, theatrical performances. If Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET was a surreal nightmare like APOCALYPSE NOW, Pyle would fit right in. But FULL METAL JACKET always struck me as more grounded, and so I struggled with that element.

Admittedly, I haven't seen it in years.
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#31
A[quote name="FatherDude" url="/community/t/107985/full-metal-jacket-no-longer-does-it-for-me#post_4120577"]There's nothing naturalistic about that bathroom scene though.
[/quote]
True. The film very consciously switches gears. But that transition has always felt like a miscalculation to me.

Admittedly, I also feel that THE SHINING is a weaker Kubrick effort.
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#32
Quote:

Originally Posted by Agentsands77 View Post


I love big, theatrical performances. If Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET was a surreal nightmare like APOCALYPSE NOW, Pyle would fit right in. But FULL METAL JACKET always struck me as more grounded, and so I struggled with that element.

Admittedly, I haven't seen it in years.

As has been said, the two halves of FULL METAL JACKET are tonally at war with each other a bit.  I find the weirder elements of the first half more compelling than the dry, more bland nature of the Vietnam stuff.

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#33
Quote:

Originally Posted by Agentsands77 View Post

Admittedly, I also feel that THE SHINING is a weaker Kubrick effort.

That's interesting!  I think it's a masterwork, and my favorite Kubrick film.

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#34
AThe last time I saw it, I actually preferred the second half to the first.
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#35
A[quote name="Belloq87" url="/community/t/107985/full-metal-jacket-no-longer-does-it-for-me/30#post_4120583"]That's interesting!  I think it's a masterwork, and my favorite Kubrick film. 
[/quote]
I have always suspected that Kubrick never really figured out what THE SHINING was supposed to be and just kinda got lost in the discovery process. It's a striking, iconic movie, but it lacks the clarity of vision and form that makes 2001 and BARRY LYNDON pinnacles of cinematic achievement.

It doesn't help that the US theatrical cut on home release is inferior to Kubrick's tighter, stronger European cut. I might change my tune if I could see the European version again.
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