Advanced Essay #4: War What is it Good For

I chose to write my essay about Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket because I was inspired by the way that he used visuals and storytelling to express the horrific events that occur during a war, and how no matter what, there will never be a winner to a war.​

Stanley Kubrick made a influential statement through his 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket. This film about the grueling and horrific events that occurred during the Vietnam war, but what makes it different from any other film depicting the war was that Kubrick made the decision to show how both parties involved are deeply impacted by the violence. By showing the immense destruction of Vietnam land, the terror that the Americans inflicted, and the sheer number of casualties, Kubrick is making the statements that there are no winners in war.

Kubrick begins his film by depicting an American marine boot camp for men who enlisted. This is where we are shown our first piece of evidence from Kubrick on how excruciating war is.   

We are shown all of the privates lined up against their bunks, with Sargeant Hartman positioned in the middle of the room. Hartman exclaims [addressing the privates] “There will be no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops, or greasers! Here, you are ALL equally useless!” This message is more than a message to the privates, but instead is a description for what is to come, war is not discriminatory, no matter what race you are, either way the enemy will try and kill you.

The entire first half of the film revolves completely around the American soldiers preparing for war at the boot camp, with the center of attention being the private nicknamed Gomer Pyle. Throughout his time Pyle is more and more mercilessly tormented by Sergeant Hartman, leading him to insanity.

Private Pyle is driven to the point where he decides to take the gun that he was required to sleep with and kills both himself and Sergeant Hartman. Kubrick was trying to express the great emotional distress that war would put people through, and sometimes it is too much for people to handle, leading them to these extreme measures.

In the second half of the film, Kubrick shows what the experience of war was actually like in Vietnam. We are shown this through the perspective of private Joker, who is assigned to be a journalist for a group that was moving to take control of an area. As they meet the group they come across a soldier nicknamed Crazy Earl who exclaims to them “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.”

Through this line Kubrick was trying to express a persona of the United States that has been created, a type of person who enjoys killing anyone that is not like him. He is trying to show how war is just a game to us, we are so powerful that we could go anywhere and wipe out large groups of people just because we can. There is no integrity in war, nothing keeping us from being machines, looking for a reason to kill.

This idea also shows true when Private Joker is interviewing a fellow soldier, Door Gunner, about the reasons he kills. He exclaims “Git some! Git some! Git some, yeah, yeah, yeah! Anyone who runs, is a VC. Anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined VC! You guys oughta do a story about me sometime!”

Private Joker responds “Why should we do a story about you?”

“'Cuz I'm so fuckin' good! I done got me 157 dead gooks killed. Plus 50 water buffalo, too! Them's all confirmed!”

“Any women or children?”


“How can you shoot women or children?”

“Easy! Ya just don't lead 'em so much! Ain't war hell?”

Gunner is the representation of what America was seen as during the Vietnam war, he kills for the pure pleasure of it. During the war America killed large numbers of innocent women and children, and seemed to not regret any of what they had done. This contributes to the idea that America sees war as a game, where all lives are expendable.

In the final scene of the film we see the group face a suffering Vietnam sniper who had been shot. We see a young girl lying on the ground bleeding, gasping the words “kill me” over and over again. As the group stands in a circle over the body of the person who had just recently

killed a large number of their friends, they must make the decision whether to leave her there or to put her out of her misery.

This shows some of the conflicts that soldiers had to go through every day during the war in a fight for survival. The issue that is brought up here is whether we should make each other suffer for the things we have done to one another? Kubrick leaves this unanswered, because it lets the viewer decide if revenge is inherently a part of human nature, or a consequence of violence.

Kubrick, Stanley, director. Full Metal Jacket.