Vantage point

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Seven-six-two millimeter, FULL METAL JACKET

Just finished watching Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket', definitely one of the better war movies I have seen. Not too gory, not too much gunfire, and yet it conveys its message so well. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, it is like 2 movies rolled into one. The first part of the movie is about Boot Camp where fresh recruits to the US Marine Corps undergo training. Now we have seen moves like 'Prahaar' where boot camp is portrayed as a glorious means to a patriotic end, serving your country. The portrayal in FMJ has a cynical tinge to it.

After the boot camp story ends, the movie heads to Vietnam where the mood in the US camp seems to be sullen. Our protagonist, 'Joker' is a military journalist. These are some of the dialogues from the movie I loved, and some observations I made

Joker wears a peace button at all times and his helmet says "Born to Kill".

RAFTERMAN: Yeah ... You know what really pisses me off about these people?
JOKER: What?
RAFTERMAN: We're supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get ... I just can't feature that.
JOKER: Don't take it too hard, Rafterman. It's just business.

Joker: The dead know only one thing, it is better to be alive.

Lieutenant Cleaves, who is scowling, visibly lightens on hearing Joker is a journalist. He keeps grinning an artificial smile while speaking whenever the photographer is clicking.

Eightball: Now you might not believe it but under fire Animal Mother(Adam Baldwin) is one of the finest human beings in the world................. All he needs is somebody to throw hand grenades at him the rest of his life.

These people (Vietnamese soldiers) 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.

The helmet of Animal Mother says "I am become death".....the quote from the Bhagvadgita that Oppenheimer used after the Atomic explosion.

As they all stand looking at the bodies of 2 marines who died in combat.
ANIMAL MOTHER: Better you than me.
RAFTERMAN: Well, at least they died for a good cause.
ANIMAL MOTHER: What cause was that?
ANIMAL MOTHER: Flush out your head gear, new guy. You think we waste
gooks for freedom? This is a slaughter.

EIGHTBALL: Personally, I think, uh ... they(politicians) don't really want to be involved in this war. I mean ...they sort of took away our freedom and gave it to the, to the gookers, you know. But they don't want it. They'd rather be alive than free, I guess. Poor dumb bastards.

DONLON: I mean, we're getting killed for these people and they don't even appreciate it. They think it's a big joke.

JOKER: I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and ... kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.

The film is full of typical Kubrick-style symbolisms and ironies. I could write a lot about it, but the one that strikes me the most is the one about Vietnamese women. The part in Vietnam starts with a Vietnamese whore enticing Joker and Rafterman. They bargain with her, and are finally able to get her to 10 dollars. Even later while on ground, a local Vietnamese girl approaches the unit Joker is with, and quotes a similar price. The soldiers do it with her inside a cinema hall. Again they manage to bargain. So the two Vietnamese women shown in the movie so far are both whores.

In the climax, a sniper cooped up inside a cinema hall is targetting the same unit. Three soldiers have been killed by the sniper. When the rest of them finally manage to get the sniper, they discover that it is a young Vietnamese woman....the sniper inside the "cinema hall" was a woman. Get the irony...with all the bargains earlier?

Anyway, the movie is amazing and I heartily recommend it to everyone.

Hold it, NOT everyone. People who watch war movies as "action movies" should stay away from FMJ. They will not appreciate the nuances of the movie. A few days back I read on someone's blog that "Apocalypse Now put me off war movies". That is like saying "Tendulkar's century put me off cricket" or "Listening to Bhimsen Joshi put me off Indian classical music".

Those who still view war flicks as good vs evil, us vs them kinda no brainer things, watch J P Dutta's "Border". Stay away from Full Metal Jacket.