Full Metal Jacket (1987)

 

 

 



Director:     Stanley Kubrick.

Starring:     Matthew Modine (Pvt. J.T. "Joker" Davis), Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), Vincent D'Onofrio (Pvt. Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence), R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman), Darian Harewood (Eightball), Kevyn Major Howard (Rafterman), Arliss Howard (Pvt. Cowboy), Ed O'Ross (Lt. Touchdown), John Terry (Lt. Lockhart), Kieron Jecchinis (Crazy Earl), Kirk Taylor (Payback), Tim Colceri (Doorgunner), Jon Stafford (Doc Jay), Bruce Boa (Poge Colonel), Ian Tyler (Lt. Cleves).

Based on the novel The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford.

Marine basic training and combat  in the Tet Offensive of 1968

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

At basic training for the Marine Corps the new recruits are having their hair shaved off.

The recruits are now dressed as marines and have been assigned to a barracks. Each man stands by his bed. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman loudly announces his name and says he is their senior drill instructor.

While the drill instructor goes around insulting the men Pvt. J.T. 'Joker' Davis imitates John Wayne and says: "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?" Hartman goes ballistic and demands to know who said that? While Hartman berates the man next to Davis, Davis boldly says he was the one who said it. Hartman refers to Davis as Pvt. Joker. While berating him, the sergeant socks Davis in the stomach and Davis goes to his knees in pain.

Now Hartman goes back to the neighbor fellow and berates him some more. His next victim is Leonard Lawrence. Lawrence is taller than the sergeant and is quite heavy. And his mouth always seems to be open. The drill instructor decides to call him Gomer Pyle (from the Andy Griffith show on television). The sergeant tells him to wipe off that smile on his face. Lawrence closes his mouth, but his expression gives the impression he's going to burst out laughing at any moment.

Lawrence says he cannot help it -- that this is the way he always looks. Hartman has him get down on his knees. He is told to lean forward and put his neck into the sergeant's waiting hand. He is then supposed to choke himself by pushing his neck against the hand until the recruit starts to feel that he is choking. So Lawrence has to do this while being yelled at.

Paris Island, South Carolina, the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Davis describes it as: "An eight-week college for the phony-tough and the crazy-brave." The unit goes running with Hartman.

Then it's more marching practice. Lawrence messes up with his right shoulder arms and his left shoulder arms, putting his rifle on his right shoulder when the order called for the left shoulder. Hartman goes ballistic again. He says that Pyle is deliberately messing up. So he slaps Pyle on the left side of his face and says this is the left side. He now slaps him on the right side saying this is your right side. Lawrence is upset by this, but he recovers.

Hartman puts Pyle at the end of the marching unit. He has to walk with his pants around his ankles. He sucks his thumb and his hat is turned backwards. Lawrence holds the rifle barrel downward on his left shoulder.

Early the next morning the men are out on the parade ground again. Hartman yells at Pyle again. When Pyle is put on the obstacle course, he can't get up and over a large log held up by a log on each side of it. Pyle tries and tries again to get over the obstacle, but he cannot.

Now Pyle can't even do one pull-up on the chinning bar. Pyle gets balled out again.

Climbing up a very wide, straight up and down ladder, Pyle can't make it over the top to descend on the other side of the ladder. After being screamed at, Pyle has to go down the way he came up the ladder.

Hartman has Davis help hold Lawrence up while he is running. More abuse of Gomer Pyle.

At the bunks in the barracks Davis tells Hartman that he does not believe in the Virgin Mary. For this Hartman slaps Davis across the face. Hartman now assigns Lawrence to Davis saying that Davis will teach Pyle all the things that he doesn't know.

Davis even has to show Lawrence the way to tie up his boots. On the ladder obstacle, Davis teaches Lawrence how to cross over the top rung to get to the other side of the ladder. It takes some doing, but Lawrence does get over the top rung.

Hartman inspects the men in the barracks and finds Pyle's foot locker unlocked. And the abuse starts again. Hartman opens the foot locker and empties out the tray at the top. He then investigates the bottom of the foot locker and finds there a jelly donut. Food is not allowed in the barracks. Hartman calls Pyle "a disgusting fat body".

Sarge decides to change his approach. He says he's not getting any help from the guys in the unit. They need to properly motivate Pyle. And if he sees Pyle do anything wrong, he will not punish Pyle, but rather all the rest of the unit.

Lawrence tells Davis that now everybody hates him. Davis says nobody hates him, but Lawrence just keeps making mistakes. Lawrence says he can't do anything right. He adds that he needs help. Davis replies that he is really trying to help Lawrence.

The guys have to do extra P.T. (physical training) because of Lawrence. So at night the guys decide to give Lawrence a beating. They all gang up on him and hit him with their soap bars tied up in their towels. Even Davis hits Lawrence, three times in fact.  Lawrence cries.

At drill Lawrence does not sound off like the other guys. He remains silent while sarge is asking them questions. During the talks given by Hartman, Lawrence just keeps glaring at him.

While cleaning their rifles Lawrence starts talking to himself about everything being clean and shining. Davis is concerned about Lawrence and tells his neighbor, known as Cowboy to Hartman because he comes from Texas, that he doesn't think that Lawrence can hack it anymore. He also says that Lawrence is a Section 8. [Old term for a psychological discharge.]

Pyle gets his first praise from the sarge. He is a pretty good rifle shooter. And then he receives more praise at inspection from the sarge.

Graduation day is only two days away.

On Graduation Day sarge says: "Today you people are no longer maggots. Today you are marines" That means that from today they are part of an elite corps of men and every marine is a brother to every other marine forever.

A lot of the guys are going to be going to Vietnam. So a lot of the guys are assigned to the infantry. Davis is assigned to be a journalist.

The last night on Paris Island. Davis has night fire watch. He hears some strange noises and starts to look around. He goes into the "head" and finds Lawrence with a strange look on his face sitting on one of the many toilets. He has with him his rifle. He has in his hands a magazine full of bullets.

Davis asks if those are live rounds? Lawrence says: "7.62 millimeter. Full metal jacket." Davis tells him that if Hartman catches them here like this, they are going to be in a world of shit. Lawrence says slowly that he is in a world of shit.

He jumps up, grabs the rifle and starts doing the drill movements with the rifle. He says: "Lock and load" which means to put the magazine into the rifle and prepare the rifle for firing. Everybody in the barracks hears what's going on and  they start looking around.

Hartman tells the men to get back in their bunks. He then goes into the "head". He starts yelling at Davis for not having disciplined Lawrence already. In his defense, Davis says: "Sir, it is the private's duty to inform you that Private Pyle has a full magazine and has locked and loaded, sir."

Pyle gets that terrible look on his face again. This just makes Hartman mad. He demands that Pyle hand over the rifle. When Pyle does not, Hartman goes back to shouting a whole panoply of insults at Pyle. Pyle picks up the weapon and when Hartman is in mid-sentence shoots him right in the chest. And now Pyle points the rifle at the chest of Davis.

Davis starts telling Pyle to just take it easy. Pyle sits down on the toilet again. He puts the barrel of the rifle into his mouth and pulls the trigger with a finger from his other hand. The blood splatters on the white tiles behind him. Davis stands there as if transfixed by the recent events.

 

Vietnam. A tall prostitute tries to get Davis and his friend to go with her for $15 dollars apiece. While the guys' attentions are focused on the woman, a confederate comes walking by and grabs their camera. The confederate throws the camera to another fellow on a motor scooter, does some karate moves with his hands and feet and then jumps onto the back of the motor scooter.

U.S. Marine Corps, Danang. [Situated in central Vietnam, today Danang is Vietnamís fourth largest city and one of the most significant seaports in the central region. It is located south of the city of Hue.]

Davis and his assistant Rafterman are talking while they walk. Rafterman says it really bugs him how the Americans are trying to help them, but all they do is shit on the Americans. And he is also not happy about his job. He tells Davis that a little girl could do the job he does. What he really wants is a chance to be in combat (called "trigger time").

Davis tells him that Rafterman would get killed and then his mom would come after Davis for letting her son be killed. He won't let him transfer.

The journalism group sits down to have a discussion about what's the news today. Davis says there's a rumor that the Tet holiday ceasefire will be cancelled. [Tet is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year and marks the arrival of spring.]

The fellow in charge says those types of rumors always go around when the Tet holiday is coming up. To make it seem more serious, Davis says that Intelligence says Charlie might try something big this year. The leader of the group changes the subject to the singer and dancer Ann-Margaret coming next week. Rafterman takes that assignment.

The officer asks Davis about why is there no kill story this week. Davis says there weren't any this week. The officer tells him to write that there was one kill and make it an officer. "Grunts like reading about dead officers."

January 30, 1968. Fireworks are set off to mark the Tet holiday. The guys in the barracks are relaxing, listening to music and talking smack. All of a sudden, they hear the sounds of explosions. "Incoming! Oh, shit!" The men grab their gear and start running toward the sound of the explosions. The men jump into chest high trenches and prepare to fire.

A van comes roaring through the traffic obstacles and the soldiers start firing. Davis mans a machine gun. The van is set on fire and the whole back end of it explodes. Now individual enemy soldiers try to get through, but they don't get very far before being knocked down by horizontal rain of bullets.

The enemy has taken advantage of the Tet ceasefire and launched an offensive all over South Vietnam. The journalism officer says they had it easy here in Danang, but Charlie has hit virtually every military target in Vietnam. They even overran the U.S. Embassy in Saigon using suicide squads. It is likely that Khe Sanh will be overrun. And not far from Danang, the North Vietnamese division has occupied Hue south of the Perfume River.

Joker (Davis) makes a flippant remark about will this mean that Ann-Margaret is not coming? The officer gets a bit sore at Joker and tells him he will be heading up to Phu Bai because Captain January will need Davis. Rafterman asks for permission to go with Davis. Permission granted. Davis says he doesn't want Rafterman going with him, but the officer says Rafterman is the responsibility of Davis and he will take him along when he goes up to Phu Bai. [Phu Bai is located southeast near the City of Hue and much farther in distance northwest of Danang.]

Davis and Rafterman are headed to Phu Bai via a helicopter. The gunner is a real war criminal, killing civilians farming their fields as the helicopter flies over them. It's making Rafterman sick and he feels like throwing up. The gunner brags that he's killed 157 "gooks" already. He also killed 50 water buffalos.

Davis and Rafterman land. They are now in a combat zone. The top sergeant says they can find their friend Cowboy at 2-5. The guys start walking with the troops. Davis speaks to an officer who turns out to be Cowboy's platoon commander. He tells the reporters that his name is Walter J. Schinoski. His nickname is Touch Down because he played football for Notre Dame.

Walter tells the reporters that they picked a good day because the N.V.A. are dug in deep. Hotel Company is working this side of the river. The fighting is house to house. Walter also tells him that besides one of the canals the N.V.A. killed a lot of civilians.

The reporters go over to the canal. In a mass grave the 20 dead lay next to each other covered with lime. Davis starts talking with Lt. Cleves from Hartford, Connecticut. A higher ranking officer sees Davis with his peace sign button on his jacket. The officer gets angry and asks why does Davis have a peace sign on his jacket, but a "Born to Kill" phrase on his helmet? Davis says he was trying to make a statement about the duality of man. The officer doesn't know what Davis is talking about. He tells him to get with the winning team, on the side of the Americans. After all, ". . . inside every gook there is an American trying to get out".

The reporters find Cowboy. He is shocked to see Davis. And he's very happy. He introduces Davis and Rafterman to the guys in his unit, telling them these two guys can make them famous because they are reporters for Stars and Stripes.

A guy known as Animal Mother comes over to Davis with an attitude and starts asking him a lot of questions. Davis the joker gives him funny answers. So Animal Mother says he's got a joke for Davis: "I'm going to tear you a new asshole." A black soldier intervenes making a joke and breaks the tension.

One of the soldiers asks Rafterman to take a photo of him and his buddy. He leans over and pulls off the hat hanging over the man's face. This reveals a dead enemy soldier. The living soldier says he will never forget this day. It was: "The day I came to Hue City and fought one million N.V.A. gooks." [Actually, it was only 10,000 "gooks". The enemy rapidly took over Hue. The South Vietnamese and the US marines had to push them out going house to house.]

Davis walks behind a tank with a rifle. Several explosions go off and the commanding officer is hit. The squad is divided up into three groups to attack the enemy positions. The men move up to the buildings, one of which is on fire.

When they get close, enemy machine guns open up on them. One fellow is hit and goes down. The Americans now open up on the windows of the buildings in front of them. And someone with a grenade launcher gets a grenade right through one of the three windows and it explodes with great effect.

All is quiet for awhile. Four enemy soldiers run across the front of the American in charge. He was distracted and did not get a shot off. But he waits patiently and when two more enemy soldiers start running across he hits both of them. The tank and the men move up farther into the heart of what's left of Hue.

A film crew takes film pictures of the soldiers resting before moving out again. Two soldiers from the unit were killed. The film crew gets shots of the living soldiers talking about the dead soldiers. Animal Mother says: "Better you than me." A lot of the marines say that the South Vietnamese don't seem to appreciate what the Americans are doing for them.

A soldier pimp and a pretty girl try to get some customers from the men in the unit. The price starts at $15 dollars, but the guys get the price down to $5 dollars. One of the black soldiers, known as Eight Ball, wants to go first, but the girl says no. She doesn't have intercourse with blacks because she says their organs are too big. So the soldier opens up his fly and shows her the size of his penis. He says it ain't tiny, but it certainly is not beaucoup (too big). The girl now says okay. Animal Mother insists on being first.

The next day intelligence reports that the enemy has moved across the Perfume River. The squad is send out to make sure the intelligence is accurate. One of the men picks up a stuffed bunny toy and an explosion takes place behind him. The medic comes, but the man dies. The dead man was the squad leader, so now Cowboy becomes the squad leader.

The men continue moving forward. The unit made a mistake at the last checkpoint on their map and now they have to change direction. Cowboy tells the men that Eight Ball is going out first to check on the area.

Just as Eight Ball gives the sign for the men to move up, he gets hit by a sniper's bullet in the right thigh. The marines open up on the buildings but they don't even know where the sniper is. Cowboy orders a ceasefire. He asks if anyone saw any enemy and they all say negative.

One of the marines, Doc Jay, just gets up, says he's going and runs out to Eight Ball who has been hit four times now by the sniper. The marine starts pulling Eight Ball toward safety, but now the hero is hit by the sniper. Cowboy says they are pulling out. Animal Mother says the men are not pulling out. Doc Jay gets hit again. Cowboy says no, so Animal Mother takes off blasting away with his machine gun as he goes.

Animal Mother makes it up close to the two downed men. He asks Doc Jay where is the sniper and Doc Jay points to the left side of building. Just then Doc Jay is hit with three bullets.

Animal Mother yells to Cowboy to bring up the squad. They are clear to his position. Cowboy and five others move out. With him are Davis and Rafterman. They reach Animal Mother and Cowboy takes a look. He grabs the phone to call in, but forgets that the wall he is standing behind is now mostly open space. The sniper gets Cowboy with a shot to his back that goes out his front chest cavity.

They pull Cowboy around the corner and try to patch him up, but he dies in their arms. Animal Mother now tells them let's go get some payback. They throw out some smoke grenades and under this cover they move over to be under the building where the sniper is located.

Davis sees the sniper looking the other way. He fires his rifle, but there are no bullets in it. Now the sniper, a young woman, starts gunning for Davis. Davis drops his rifle and pulls out a pistol. The woman moves around some more to get a better shot, but just then the woman is riddled with bullets. Rafterman is the shooter.

Rafterman starts looking around making sure there's not another sniper in the area. When the coast is clear, he shouts to the others that they got the sniper. In English the sniper asks the men to shoot her. Davis hesitates and then shoots her with his pistol.

Davis as narrator says: "I'm in a world of shit, yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid."

 

 

The movie is two movies  in one.  The first deals with Marine Corps training on Paris Island, South Carolina.  A poor simpleton has great difficulty adjusting to the training and is treated excessively harshly by the drill sergeant.  Most likely such a man would have been washed out of the corps, but in movie life the man is left in to produce a shocking end.

The second half of the movie finds the Marines in Hue City fighting for their lives at the climactic battle of the 1968 Tet Offensive (when the enemy was supposed to be on the ropes)  -- the psychological turning point for American attitudes on the war itself.

It is amusing to me that the United States still seems unable to admit that ultimately they were defeated militarily.  Yes, it is true that the United States won all its battles, but it is an old saying that you can win many a battle and yet still lose a war.   Militarily, the enemy forces were able to continue their fighting for so many years, that the United States concluded that it was not worth the further sacrifice in terms of lives and money to continue the war. 

Unable to defeat the enemy militarily, the conservatives in America continue to claim that the Vietnam War was lost because of propaganda, media influence and lack of popular support in the pursuit of military objectives.  The Vietnam War, however,  continued well into the 1970s, long after the Tết Offensive.  The Offensive woke the United States to the fact that this was going to be a long, dirty war.  And it lasted so long that the Congress of the United States voted not to provide the funds necessary for critical  war support.  This in turn helped Nixon finally realize that he could not win the war and peace negotiations began that eventually ended the war.  But it was the continuing military strength of the enemy forces that caused the US eventually to "cut and run."

But it's more comforting to conservatives to continue the lie and to continue to use it to bash in a demagogic style their fellow Americans of the "wrong" political persuasion.  They continue to use it as a weapon to accuse liberals of being unpatriotic and disloyal. 

And I would think that believing in this lie made it easy for the United States to rush into war in Afghanistan and Iraq under President Bush II.  But it will not be the opinions of the liberals that will eventually force the United States out of these countries, but the continued fighting of the forces opposed to US occupation of their countries.  Only a fool would continue fighting a war long past the realization that it cannot be won, but politically this occurs all too often in the United States.   

 

Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

Vietnam War

1868 (January 30-June 8)  --   the Tết Offensive was a series of attacks on American and South Vietnamese targets by the Viet Cong and North Vietnam.

January 30-31  --  celebration of  Tết.  The offensive was called the Tết Offensive as it was timed to begin on the night of the Lunar New Year.

Ten North Vietnamese and six Viet Cong battalions attacked the city of Huế, which was almost completely overrun. Thousands of civilians believed to be unfriendly were then massacred (2,800 bodies found later with another 2,000 persons missing).

The US Marines and some army units had to fight for the city street by street and house by house.  They slowly fought their way to the Citadel, a fortified 3-square-mile section of the city.  It took four days to recapture the Citadel.

end of February  --  U.S. and South Vietnamese forces recapture the city after 26 days of fighting.

The U.S. lost 216 men; the South Vietnamese 384. The enemy lost about 8,000.  Thousands of the city's civilians were also killed.

Huế was one of the longest and perhaps the bloodiest single battle of the Vietnam War.

Militarily speaking, the Tết Offensive was a crushing military defeat for the the enemy forces.  They lost around 55,000 dead.  The Viet Cong was crippled. 

But it was the psychological impact on the United States and its allies that was so important.  The President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and his team, presented the picture of the enemy being gradually defeated and it was just a matter of time before the Vietnam War would be won.  I was one of those who believed the U.S. hype and thought that militarily the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces were very weak.  In fact, I can remember being with a group of leftists against the war who thought that the big mouth of the group was completely mistaken when he reported the great accomplishment of the enemy forces in being able to mass such an offensive all over Vietnam.  Obviously, the United States officials had to have been exaggerating their own successes and underestimating the strength of the enemy.  It was quite a turning point in our thinking about the Vietnam War. 

President Johnson's saw his popularity fall sharply after the Offensive.

1968 (March)  --  President Johnson withdrew as a candidate for re-election.

 

 

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