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This week Rene Hernandez takes a personal look at Full Metal Jacket. Rene’s discussion is an important addition to our cultural conversations about film and war. Historically, movies and television shows have shaped the way our society has come to understand and process war. In addition, war-themed movies and television programming have helped us to collectively talk about war. For example, the television show M*A*S*H was a comedic portrayal of the Korean War, but this series also served as a way for our society to discuss and cope with our collective experiences during the Vietnam Conflict. This week Rene takes us in a related, yet different direction. Rene looks at how Full Metal Jacket portrays the solider’s psyche. After reading his entry, I might now even suggest that Full Metal Jacket has been a way for soliders to start to discuss and/or process their individual and collective experiences.

Labragirl would like to extend a personal and heartfelt “Thank You” to Rene and his family for their service and sacrifice. We’d also like to extend that “Thank You” to all those who have served and are currently serving in the armed forces.

– Laurie


By Rene Hernandez

For many U.S. Marines, Full Metal Jacket is an unforgettable movie. Every Marine that has endured the extreme mental, physical, and emotional trials and tribulations of Marine basic training can relate to the physical and mental experiences of the recruits in this film. In addition, many combat Marines can connect with the harsh experiences of the Marines serving in Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive that Full Metal Jacket portrays. But what really sets Full Metal Jacket apart from most military-themed movies is that in addition to depicting the actions and experiences of Marines in training and in combat, Full Metal Jacket also portrays the psyche that Marines develop once they enter the ranks of what many people, including myself, consider the most elite fighting force in the world.

The film Full Metal Jacket is divided into two parts. The first part is set at the Marine Recruit Training Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, and the second part is set in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. I would like to focus on the first part of the film because regardless of what military occupation you held in the Marine Corps every Marine is required to successfully complete recruit training, and thus every Marine can identify with this unforgettable experience. This part of the film mainly focuses on two recruits nicknamed “Joker” and “Gomer Pyle”.


*Source: http://content6.flixster.com/photo/10/98/81/10988160_gal.jpg

Gomer Pyle

Source: http://www.wearysloth.com/Gallery/ActorsD/4067-6913.gif

These two characters, along with the rest of the boot camp platoon, receive their training from their Senior Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Gunny Hartman is very accurately portrayed as a stern leader who does not take kindly to insubordination or weakness; this means that the platoon is subjected to constant verbal and sometimes physical attacks. However, as a result of his poor physical conditioning and inability to grasp basic military orders, Private Pyle is subject to even more verbal and physical abuse from Gunny Hartman.

Gunnery Hartman

 Source: http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Third_Party_Photo/2008/03/21/1206105071_7910.jpg

The only recruit who appears to feel sympathy for Private Pyle’s plight is Private Joker. As a result of the courage that is displayed by Private Joker, he is promoted by Gunny Hartman and ordered to assist Private Pyle with his recruit training. Although Private Joker is able to help Private Pyle with adjusting to and excelling in some aspects of recruit training, Private Pyle still encounters significant difficulty with training and ultimately performs a major violation: Private Pyle is caught with stolen food by Gunny Hartman, which results in the rest of the platoon being punished. This causes Private Pyle to receive reprisal from the rest of the platoon in the form of a beating in the middle of the night. Although Private Joker is conflicted about taking part in the beating, he ultimately participates in order to not be the only platoon member to not take part in the beating.

(Full Metal Jacket is rated R. Material in this clip may not be suitable for viewers under 17)

The beating endured by Private Pyle causes him to become mentally unstable; after this incident Private Pyle speaks to his rifle and often appears disconcerted. Again, Private Joker is the only one who notices and seems concerned by Private Pyle’s display of mental distress. However, when Private Joker informs another recruit about Private Pyle’s actions, the recruit is apathetic to what Private Joker tells him. At the end of the first part, Private Pyle’s mental instability culminates with him shooting Gunny Hartman and himself in the recruit bathroom in front of Private Joker.

Throughout the first part of the film the Marines are subjected to extreme verbal and, in some instances, physical abuse from Gunny Hartman. The recruits are frequently told that they are nothing until they graduate from boot camp and become Marines. However, the verbal abuse that the recruits endure appears to not be without a purpose; it appears that the abuse is meant to mold the recruits into combat-ready Marines. In this part of the film, Gunny Hartman repeatedly tells the recruits that the training they will endure will result in a transformation from civilians to battle-hungry warriors. In one scene in particular, Gunny Hartman tells the recruits that once they become Marines, they will become “Ministers of death praying for war!”

(Full Metal Jacket is rated R. Material in this clip may not be suitable for viewers under 17)

The recruits themselves appear to understand this: In one scene, Private Joker gives a narrative of his boot camp experience, where he states that “The Marine Corp does not want robots. The Marine Corp wants killers. The Marine Corp wants to build indestructible men, men without fear.” Hence, the ultimate goal of the Marine Corps is to not only prepare the troops for combat, but to also make them eager to face combat. One can easily take away that this is the development of the Marine psyche.

The Marine psyche is also showcased in the experience of Private Pyle. During recruit training, Private Pyle is targeted by Gunny Hartman because he appears to be physically weak and incompetent. Throughout the film, Private Pyle is showed as being unable to perform exercise routines or complete obstacle courses. This leads to increasingly harsher insults and verbal attacks from Gunny Hartman. In one scene in particular, Private Pyle attempts to climb over an obstacle course tower, but hesitates as he reaches the top of the obstacle.

(Full Metal Jacket is rated R. Material in this clip may not be suitable for viewers under 17)

Gunny Hartman tries to get him to climb over the top, but Pyle refuses to climb over to the other side. This causes Gunny Hartman to berate Pyle with insults and tells him that he is determined to instill motivation within him, no matter what. Thus, the film makes it seem that mental and physical weakness is something that is not tolerated within the Marine Corps. It can also be concluded that had Private Pyle not demonstrated physical weakness during most of recruit training, then he would not have been subjected to the extreme verbal abuse from Gunny Hartman or the physical beating at the hands of the other recruits.

Full Metal Jacket provides a very interesting interpretation of what the Marine Corps expects its recruits to eventually become. As a Marine Corps veteran, I can say that my boot camp experience was very similar to those experienced by the recruits in the film.

Is this type of strenuous training necessary in order to make efficient, combat-ready warriors?

Is any indication of physical or mental weakness a liability to a Marine’s development?

Should weakness of any kind be rooted out of any Marine, or for that matter any soldier preparing for combat?

Does Private Joker’s participation in the beating of Private Pyle reflect a motivation to not appear weak to the other recruits?

These are a few of the questions that I always ask myself whenever I watch Full Metal Jacket. My answers to these questions sometime change, depending on how clearly I remember my own recruit training experience.

Until next time,


Up Next: Resident Blogger Eric Winter’s Discussion about Villains & Society’s Fears.

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