Full Metal Jacket

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For the type of ammunition, see Full metal jacket bullet.

Full Metal Jacket
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick
Michael Herr
Gustav Hasford
(for the novel
The Short-Timers)
Starring Matthew Modine
Adam Baldwin
Vincent D'Onofrio
R. Lee Ermey
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date 26 June 1987 (premiere)
Runtime 116 min.
Language English
Budget $17,000,000
IMDb page

Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. The film is named after the full metal jacketed bullets used in military ammunition.

The film has been widely praised for accurately evoking the mood of the Vietnam War from the soldier's point of view. Recurring themes are the contradictions of war, a constant feeling of being out of one's depth, and the idea of combat in Vietnam being part of a different world, with its own rules and customs. The miasma of confusion and angst of the new world begins in boot camp, and spirals down into bloodshed before even landing in Vietnam.

In the aftermath of this film a series of policy changes came about in what was considered acceptable behavior by a drill instructor in the United States Marine Corps. All references to a recruit's family are absolutely forbidden, as is striking a recruit.

The movie is often said to have been shot on the Isle of Dogs, in east London, but in fact the ravaged city scenes were shot in a disused gas works in Beckton, further east. The open country is Cliffe marshes, also on the Thames, with palm trees imported from Spain. While this was reasonable for the urban nature of the Tet offensive, it can be attributed to Kubrick's aversion to travel, especially by plane. After receiving death threats during the filming of Barry Lyndon in Ireland, he had decided never again to leave Great Britain.



The protagonist of the film is Marine recruit J.T. 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine), who is part of a group beginning basic training as a Marine on Parris Island, SC. The brutal command of drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by former Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor) shows the harsh indoctrination of the armed forces during the Vietnam War era. The drill is depicted as designed to eliminate virtually all trace of the recruits' individual personalities and transform them into killers (to "keep Heaven packed with fresh souls"). This first section of the film focuses largely on how the brutal treatment of overweight misfit Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) results in his losing his sanity, after which, despite Joker's attempts to intervene, he murders the drill instructor, and then kills himself.

The soldiers express their views of the war.
The soldiers express their views of the war.

The second part then takes place in Vietnam, focusing on 'Joker', who is now a Sergeant, and a Stars and Stripes war correspondent, as he covers the Tet Offensive. The 'Joker' soon becomes familiar with both the horror and the absurdity of the war. His helmet decoration – the slogan "Born to Kill" – and the Peace symbol pin on his uniform exemplify his moral ambiguity. In one scene Joker is confronted by a Marine Corps Colonel (Bruce Boa), demanding to know why he has a peace symbol on his uniform and "Born To Kill" on his helmet. Joker mentions the duality of man theory postulated by Carl Jung; the colonel questions Joker's patriotism and demands that he shape up, "or I will take a giant shit on you."

The film concludes with the soldiers' ironic rendition of the theme song to the Mickey Mouse Club. The film's end credits are accompanied by The Rolling Stones "Paint It Black."


The movie includes a great deal of satire on the Vietnam war and the soldiers involved in the war, though few would deem the movie a comedy. The main themes of the movie include the irony of war, and the comparable power of words and ideas in a war. This theme is crystalized first by the drill instructor, whose words hit as hard as his fists, and later in the scenes with the Sgt. Joker's editor for "Stars and Stripes" and in the scene with the colonel where the colonel asks if Sgt. Joker is on "our side" and is waiting for "this peace craze to blow over."

Although often said to contain two distinct parts, the film can be categorized into three. The first part is the training of new US Marine Corps recruits, culminating with the deaths of the drill instructor and Pvt. "Pyle". The second part of the movie establishes Joker's role as a war reporter, working behind the lines during the Tet Offensive of 1968. In the third section, the focus shifts to a patrol searching through the bombed out city of Hue to root out a sniper. The sections are bookended by scenes of bargaining with prostitutes, and each section ends with shocking violence.

Irony runs rampant throughout the film. In the first section of the movie, the recruit training is supposed to train soldiers who protect the interests of the country and the military, but eventually it results in the death of the senior drill instructor. The initially innocent and naive Pvt. Leonard Lawrence (nicknamed Gomer Pyle) ended up as a killer, exactly as the drill instructor wanted. The murder of the senior drill instructor is ironic because his success in converting Pvt. Gomer Pyle into a killer results in his own death. The drill instructor's speech about famous assassins, provides more irony. Although each of his examples was a motivated Marine, each ultimately ended up insane and killing innocent people. Near the beginning of the second part of the movie, Sgt. Joker is told an irony laced joke about "how to kill women and children." The final irony is that the product of the US marine recruit training, killers, are wiped out one by one by a small school girl who snipes them from a damaged building.

The movie also examines the irony of providing freedom for the Vietnamese people by taking away the freedom of the American people, and the allegation made by some of the soldiers that the Vietnamese don't seem to want their freedom.

There are several references to religion. In one of the scenes the senior drill instructor asks Pvt. Joker whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. Pvt. Joker replies that he does not, and the senior drill instructor, offended, strikes the Private, and asks him again, getting the same reply. After repeated blows, the instructor asks Pvt. Joker if he is deliberately trying to anger the instructor by reiterating his answer, and Joker replies that he believes the Drill Instructor will beat him harder if he reverses his position in the face of the abuse. The instructor then promotes Pvt. Joker to squad leader, not because of his answer, but for standing by his beliefs in the face of adversity.


The following is a list of song titles used through out the film.


  • Stanley Kubrick provided the voice of Murphy, the soldier on the other end of the radio communication in the latter part of the film.
  • Vivian Kubrick, his daughter, had a uncredited guest role as a News Camera Operator at the Mass Grave.
  • Ermey was originally hired to give another actor hired to play Sergeant Hartman the basics of giving a realistic performance as a Marine drill sergeant, but was quickly hired in the actor's place after the director grew impressed with him.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Films by Stanley Kubrick
Day of the Fight | Flying Padre | The Seafarers | Fear and Desire | Killer's Kiss | The Killing | Paths of Glory | Spartacus | Lolita | Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb | 2001: A Space Odyssey | A Clockwork Orange | Barry Lyndon | The Shining | Full Metal Jacket | Eyes Wide Shut | A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
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