For someone who could already be called a misanthrope, Kubrick even managed to make war look bleak.
Based on the novel The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford, FULL METAL JACKET focuses on dehumanization during the Vietnam War, beginning with a symbolic shot of new recruits having heads shaved. As training commences, soldiers are deprived of their names eventually their identities as they’re willingly formed into killing machines. The first scene with any sort humanity doesn’t occur until well into the movie, when Pvt. Joker (Mathew Madine) provides encouragement to long suffering Pvt. Pyle (Vincent D’Onafrio). Because it comes after 20 minutes of insults and profanities spilling from drill instructor R. Lee Ermey at his “pukes”, the moment of kindness is jarring, because we’ve been transported to a world where emotion is out of place.
The audience is finally given someone with whom they feel they can identify a soldier who’s managed to retain his humanity as he expresses “the duality of man” by wearing a peace symbol next to the words “born to kill”. “Joker” is a fitting name for the otherwise nameless protagonist in a movie that juxtaposes ‘60s party rock against scenes of combat and explosions. With FULL METAL JACKET, Kubrick is exposing a joke, but not the ha-ha variety. As with most of his films, there exists a cosmic joke no one quite, and war is one of its oldest retellings. Therefore, we’re not permitted to watch our protagonist escape unscathed. Instead, he becomes a bearer of the “thousand-yard store”, a living death, and the audience is left with nothing but flames and Micky Mouse.