The tightest, funniest, most disturbing Stanley Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove is (so I hear) the Vietnam movie soldiers love best.
In neat halves—the first part takes place in a slightly otherworldly version of basic training, the second in a slightly otherworldly version of ‘Nam—Full Metal Jacket constructs and conceives of War as more than simply a dehumanizing experience. Neither overtly comic nor depressingly grim, the movie looks at War as a series of dichotomies: War is messy, and War is hell, but it is also thrilling and beautiful. War starts in basic training, but basic training (the indoctrination process) is War—as a soldier, it only ends when it kills your soul. And War is also the id unleashed, suppressing its femininity at all costs—through swagger, and tough talk, and vernacular—all of it working to harden the heart; but a hard heart kills better than a soft one. And at the climax of each half of the film, Kubrick looks at his protagonist unflinchingly. The torn pacifist Private Joker (Matthew Modine), Kubrick’s idea of a moral center, must confront the Shadow within himself, the blind capacity for death and destruction that he, too, can’t help but enable. He can stand by and watch his friends die, or he can actively participate and waste some gooks. Either way, he’s in a world of shit. Hence the biggest dichotomy of them all: Despite our noblest efforts, and regardless of whether the conflict is a just one, War makes even the best of us destroy ourselves. It turns people who aren’t killers into killers.
Kubrick packs all of this into a two-hour narrative without leaning on sentiment or phony metaphor. He keeps the humor intact, and he pulls no punches. Full Metal Jacket is a brilliant achievement.