Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a war film based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. The title refers to the type of ammunition used by infantry riflemen. The film follows a squad of U.S. Marines from their basic training through their participation in the Vietnam War.
Hartman immediately pegs Pyle as a misfit. He is socially awkward, overweight, out of shape, and afraid of heights. He has trouble coping with the physical rigors of recruit training and does not respond well to orders and procedures. These deficiencies get the constant attention of Hartman, who punishes him to encourage him to perform better as well as a lesson to the others. Hartman ultimately appoints the protagonist "Joker" (Matthew Modine) as Pyle's squad leader, bunkmate, and mentor, stressing that Joker will set Pyle straight, or else. Pyle eventually begins to straighten up and become a more disciplined recruit on some fronts, but forgets to lock his footlocker before a barracks inspection. Opening it, Hartman finds a contraband jelly doughnut inside and immediately puts a new rule into effect: every time Pyle makes a mistake, Hartman will punish everyone else in the platoon because they are not helping Hartman by encouraging Pyle to work harder toward becoming a Marine. Shortly afterward, the other recruits gang up on Pyle during the night and give him a blanket party, pinning him to his bunk and beating him severely. Joker, the last one to hit Pyle, covers his ears once he is back in his bunk to block out the latter's moaning and sobbing.
Over the next few days, Joker realizes that Pyle has become sullen and withdrawn. Pyle begins to detach himself from the platoon as well as the rest of reality. His expert marksmanship impresses Hartman, but Joker becomes worried upon watching Pyle carry on conversations with his rifle. On completing their training, everyone in 3092 platoon, including Pyle, graduates and is assigned a Military Occupational Specialty, the most common being 0300-Infantry (one notable exception is Joker who is assigned to 4212-Basic Military Journalism). On the platoon's last night on Parris Island, Joker is assigned firewatch (guard) duty, during which he discovers Pyle in the head (toilet) loading his rifle with live ammunition. Frightened, Joker attempts to calm Pyle as he loses his grip on reality and begins shouting and executing drill commands. The noise awakens Hartman, who rushes into the head and orders Pyle to put down the rifle. Pyle shoots Hartman, killing him, then sits on the toilet and kills himself as a stunned Joker looks on.
The second part of the film opens in Vietnam in January, 1968. Joker is a Sergeant and a Marine Combat Correspondent with Stars and Stripes. He has been assigned to a Marine public affairs unit with "Rafterman" (Kevyn Major Howard), a combat photographer. One day in a meeting while reading reports and pitching article ideas, Joker tells his superior, Lt. Lockhart (John Terry), of a rumor that the Communists might launch a large attack during the Tet Holiday. Lockhart is dismissive of Joker's information. However, soon thereafter, the Tet Offensive begins and the Marine base is attacked. During the offensive, Joker fights in his first battle when elements of the North Vietnamese Army attempt to overrun the base.
The next day, the PA staff learn from Lockhart about the enemy attacks all over Vietnam. Joker is ordered to Phu Bai, a Marine forward operating base near the ancient Vietnamese city of Hué, to cover the combat taking place. Rafterman tags along, hoping to get some combat experience. En route to their new assignment, Joker and Rafterman meet a crazed door gunner (Tom Colceri) on an H-34 Choctaw who is shooting every Vietnamese person he sees on the ground, on the assumption that they are all Viet Cong.
When Joker and Rafterman land outside Huế, they meet Lt. Walter J. Schinowsky, aka "Touchdown" (Ed O'Ross), who commands the platoon in which Joker's boot camp friend "Cowboy" (Arliss Howard) is serving. Touchdown directs them to a mass grave of 21 civilians killed by the North Vietnamese Army. Afterwards, Joker finds Cowboy (also a Sergeant), second in command of the Lusthog Squad, whose M-60 machine gun carrier is a nihilistic Marine nicknamed Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin). Joker then accompanies the squad during the Battle of Huế, during which Touchdown is killed and a Marine nicknamed Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis) takes command of the squad. As "Craze" leads the men on a patrol through a ruined section of the city, another squad member is killed by enemy fire.
The squad is called up for patrol again, this time north of the Perfume River which divides the city of Huế, where enemy forces are believed to be hiding. Craze comes across a toy rabbit in a ruined building and picks it up, triggering an explosive booby trap that kills him and leaves Cowboy the reluctant squad leader. The squad becomes lost in the ruined buildings, and a sniper wounds two of their comrades, Doc Jay (Jon Stafford) and Eightball (Dorian Harewood), with the intention of drawing more of them in. As the squad maneuvers to try to locate the hidden position, the sniper finishes off the wounded men and kills Cowboy as well.
With Cowboy dead, Animal Mother assumes command of the remaining Marines. Using smoke grenades to conceal their advance, the squad approaches and enters the building being used by the sniper. Joker finds the sniper on an upper floor, but his rifle jams as he tries to shoot. The sniper, an adolescent Vietnamese girl, spins around and opens fire, pinning him behind a column. Rafterman arrives and shoots the sniper, saving Joker. As Joker, Rafterman, and Animal Mother and other marines of the company stand over the mortally wounded girl, she begins to pray weakly in Vietnamese. After a pause, she begs in English to the Marines, "Shoot me," over and over. Joker and Animal Mother argue over this request. Animal Mother initially wants to leave her to be eaten by rats, but changes his mind; he will allow a mercy killing only if Joker, who has much less combat experience, performs it. After a pause, Joker shoots her with his pistol. The film concludes with the Marines' rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club march as their reunited platoon marches into the night toward their bivouac.
At some point, Kubrick wanted to meet Hasford in person but Herr advised against this, describing The Short-Timers author as a "scary man." Kubrick insisted and they all met at Kubrick's house in England for dinner. It did not go well and Hasford was subsequently shut out of the production.
Former U.S. Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was originally hired as a technical adviser and asked Kubrick if he could audition for the role of Hartman, but the director, having seen his portrayal of Drill Instructor SSgt Loyce in The Boys in Company C, told him that he wasn't vicious enough to play the character. In response, Ermey made a videotape of himself improvising insulting dialogue while being pelted by people off-camera with oranges and tennis balls, which he did with a group of British soldiers who auditioned for the film with the scene where the recruits first meet Hartman. Ermey, in spite of the distractions, rattled off an unbroken string of insults for 15 minutes, and he did not flinch, duck, or repeat himself while being hit with the oranges or tennis balls. Upon viewing it, Kubrick gave him the role, realizing that Ermey "was a genius for this part," and estimates that Ermey came up with 150 pages of insults, much of it being improvised on the spot, a noted rarity for a Kubrick film. According to Kubrick's estimate, 50% of Ermey's dialogue, especially the insults, were written by the former drill instructor, and Ermey usually needed only two to three takes per scene.
According to Matthew Modine, it was a tough shoot as he had to have his head shaved once a week and was yelled at by Ermey for ten hours a day while shooting the Parris Island scenes.
At one point during filming, Ermey had a car accident and broke all of his ribs on one side and was out for four and half months. Cowboy's death scene shows a building in the background that resembles the famous alien monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick said the resemblance is an "extraordinary accident."
During filming, Hasford contemplated legal action over the writing credit. Originally, Hasford was supposed to receive an "additional dialogue" credit but he wanted full credit. The writer took two friends and snuck onto the set dressed as extras only to be mistaken by a crew member for Herr.
A score for the film was written by "Abigail Mead" (an alias for Kubrick's daughter Vivian). According to an interview which appeared in the January 1988 issue of Keyboard Magazine, the film was scored mostly with a Fairlight CMI synthesizer (the then-current Series III edition), and the Synclavier.
For the period music, Kubrick went through Billboard's list of Top 100 Hits for each year from 1962-1968 and tried many songs but "sometimes the dynamic range of the music was too great, and we couldn't work in dialogue." The music included in the film is as follows:
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