Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is an adaptation of the 1979 novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford and stars Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard and Adam Baldwin. The film follows a platoon of U.S. Marines through their training and the experiences of two of the platoon in the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The film title refers to the full metal jacket bullet used by infantry riflemen.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, a group of new United States Marine Corps recruits arrives at Parris Island for training. After having their heads shaved, they meet their senior drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). Hartman employs draconian tactics to turn the recruits into hardened marines prepared for combat. Among the recruits are Privates “Joker” (Matthew Modine), “Cowboy” (Arliss Howard), and the overweight, bumbling Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), who earns the nickname “Gomer Pyle” after attracting Hartman’s wrath.
Unresponsive to Hartman’s discipline, Pyle is eventually paired with Joker. Pyle begins to improve with Joker’s help, but regresses when Hartman discovers a contraband jelly doughnut in Pyle’s foot locker. Believing that the recruits have failed to improve Pyle, Hartman adopts a collective punishment policy: Every mistake made by Pyle will reward Pyle and earn the rest of the platoon punishment. The platoon is forced to do pushups while Pyle is humiliatingly forced to eat the doughnut. In retaliation, at night the platoon (including a reluctant Joker) hazes Pyle with a blanket party, restraining him to his bunk, gagging him and beating him with bars of soap wrapped in towels. After this incident, Pyle undergoes a personality change, becoming a model marine. This impresses Hartman, but worries Joker, who recognizes signs of mental breakdown in Pyle, such as talking to his M14 rifle.
After graduation, each recruit receives an assignment to an occupational specialty, with most being sent to the infantry; Joker is assigned to Basic Military Journalism. On the platoon’s last night on Parris Island, while Joker is on fire watch he discovers Pyle in the bathroom loading his M14 with live ammunition. Joker attempts to calm Pyle, who executes drill commands and recites the Rifleman’s Creed. The noise awakens the entire platoon and Hartman, who confronts Pyle and orders him to surrender the rifle. Pyle fatally shoots Hartman, and then commits suicide in front of Joker.
In January 1968, Joker has become a corporal and a Marine War correspondent in Vietnam with Stars and Stripes, assigned to a public-affairs unit with Private First Class Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard), a combat photographer. Rafterman wants to go into combat, as Joker claims he has done. One of Joker’s colleagues mocks his inexperience, claiming he does not have the thousand-yard stare of a man who has seen war. Gunfire interrupts their argument: the North Vietnamese Army begins the Tet Offensive and attempts to overrun the base.
The journalism staff is briefed the next day about enemy attacks throughout South Vietnam. Lt. Lockhart sends Joker to Phu Bai. Rafterman accompanies him to see combat. There, they meet the Lusthog Squad, where Cowboy is now a Sergeant and second-in-command. Joker accompanies the squad during the Battle of Huế, where their commander Lt. Touchdown (Ed O’Ross) is killed by the enemy. After the area is declared secure by the Marines, a team of American news journalists and reporters enter Huế and interview various Marines about their experiences in Vietnam and their opinions about the war.
During patrol, Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis), the team’s new squad leader, is killed by a booby trap, leaving Cowboy in command. The squad becomes lost in the rubble and Cowboy orders Eightball (Dorian Harewood) to recon the area. A Vietcong sniper wounds Eightball and the squad medic Doc Jay (John Stafford) attempts to save him against orders, being shot and wounded himself. The sniper leaves the men wounded to draw out more of the squad. Cowboy learns that tank support is not available and orders the team to prepare for withdrawal. The squad’s machine gunner, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), disobeys Cowboy and attempts to avenge his friends. He discovers there is only one sniper, but Doc Jay and Eightball are killed when Doc attempts to indicate the sniper’s location. While maneuvering to locate the sniper, Cowboy is fatally shot and dies in Joker’s arms.
Animal Mother assumes command of the squad. Under the cover of smoke grenades, the squad advances on the sniper’s position. Joker discovers the sniper, an adolescent female, and attempts to shoot her, but his rifle jams and alerts her to his presence, and she begins to fire on him. As Joker draws his sidearm, Rafterman shoots the sniper. Animal Mother and the squad converge, and the mortally wounded sniper repeatedly begs for death, prompting an argument about whether or not to kill her. Animal Mother decides to allow a mercy killing only if Joker performs it. After some hesitation, Joker shoots her with his sidearm. The Marines congratulate him on his kill as Joker stares into the distance, displaying the thousand-yard stare. The Marines march toward their camp, singing the Mickey Mouse March. Joker states that despite being “in a world of shit” that he is glad to be alive, and is unafraid.
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First Published: Jan 14, 2012 – Last Updated: Jul 6, 2013