War does terrible things to people. But sometimes people do terrible things to prepare for war.
This is a concept well illustrated in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” From the perspective of young men being groomed for, and finally participating in, the Vietnam War, the film offers a commentary on the stress that a soldier goes through, the coping techniques that they use, and the hard reality that still remains no matter what measures are taken to prepare.
We spend the first half hour of the film in Marine boot camp, trying to pinpoint a protagonist. Boot camp, after all, is designed to turn young, impressionable kids into warriors, so there is little room for individual character development. But, as the training continues, we begin to finally zero in on a few particular individuals: privates Joker (Matthew Modine), Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Cowboy (Arliss Howard). It doesn’t matter what their real names are. The nicknames that Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) gives them stick for their entire careers.
While on the surface it appears to be a half hour of yelling and denigrating as the sergeant whips them into shape, we slowly pick up on the transformation that these boys are subjected to, as well as the understanding that not all survive, as marked by the film’s infamous bathroom scene (a deeply upsetting, masterful presentation by Kubrick, directly followed by the sunny and darkly ironic, “These Boots Were Made For Walking”).
For the rest of the film, we follow Private Joker as he works as a war journalist and meets many people who each went through this training at one point or another. This truth gives deep context to the rest of the film, as many strive to hold onto their humanity in whatever way possible. Joker, as his name alludes, resorts to comedy. Others resort to more cruel tactics. All are desperately trying to get through a war.
“Full Metal Jacket” is not the first—or the last—snapshot of the grip that war has on our lives. In Midtown Cinema’s “War On Christmas” series, we see several other takes: “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Good Morning Vietnam.”
These war films are available this month for those who always roll their eyes at the inability to find anything not holiday-related. So catch one of these great films.
Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
AT MIDTOWN CINEMA
National Theatre Live
Sunday, Dec. 1, 1 p.m.
War On Christmas Series
“Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)
Sunday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m.
“All Quiet On The Western Front” (1930)
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2 p.m.
“Full Metal Jacket” (1987)
Sunday, Dec. 15, 4 p.m.
Down in Front
“Santa Claus” (1959)
Friday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m.
“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964)
Friday, Dec. 13, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
Friday, Dec. 20, 9:30 p.m.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)
Sunday, Dec. 22, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 7 p.m.
“White Christmas” (1954)
Monday, Dec. 23, 12 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 7:30 p.m.