See handouts on Spartacus and Paths of Glory for details of SK's life and work. No direct war experience but an abiding interest in how war affects individuals.

Images of the Director

  • /Directors/Kubrick/SKubrick.JPG">An intense-looking Stanley Kubrick (34K)
  • /Directors/Kubrick/SKubrick2.JPG">Kubrick with religious paraphenalia (68K)


The Novel: Gustav Hasford, The Short-Timers (1979)

Bleak, short and violent book (compare Hobbes' description of human life in Leviathan (1651) written during English Civil War - "nasty, brutish and short") about Marine combat reporter William "Joker" Doolittle, basis for Kubrick's FMJ (second half). GH served as combat correspondent with First Marine Division in VN. Novel divided into three parts each with an interesting title quote.

Quote which opens entire novel: Walt Whitman, "Adieu to a Soldier" from collection of Civil War poems Drum Taps (1871):

Adieu, O soldier,
You of the rude campaigning, (which we shared,)
The rapid march, the life of the camp,
The hot contention of opposing fronts, the long manoeuvre,
Red battles with their slaughter, the stimulus, the stong terrific game,
Spell of all brave and manly hearts, the trains of time through you and the like of you all fill'd,
With war and war's expression.
Adieu, dear comrade,
Your mission is fulfill'd - but I, more warlike,
Myself and this contentious soul of mine,
Still on our campaigning bound,
Through untried roads with ambushes opponents lines,
Through many a sharp defeat and many a crisis, often baffled,
Here marching, ever marching on, a war fight out - aye here,
To fiercer, weightier battles give expression.

Part 1 "The Spirit of the Bayonet" quote from Michael Herr, Dispatches (1977) - "I think that Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods". Deals with basic training at Parris Island. Very close to movie. Quote p. 32 on Joker talking to his rifle on graudation:

I feel cold and alone. I am not alone. All over Parris Island there are thousands and thousands of us. And, all around the world, hundreds of thousands.
I try to sleep....
In my rack, I pull my rifle into my arms. She talks to me. Words come out of the wood and metal and flow into my hands. She tells me what to do.
My rifle is a solid instrument of death. My rifle is black steel. Our human bodies are bags of blood, easy to puncture and quick to drain, but our hard tools of death cannot be broken.
I hold my weapon at port arms, gently, as though she were a holy relic, a magic wand wrought with interlocking pieces of silver and iron, with a teak-wood stock, golden bullets, a crystal bolt, jewels to sight with. My weapon obeys me. I'll hold Vanessa, my rifle. I'll hold her. I'll just hold her for a little while. I will hide in this dark dream for as long as I can.
Blood pours out of the barrel of my rifle and flows up on to my hands. The blood moves. The blood breaks into living fragments. Each fragment is a spider. Millions and millions of tiny red spiders of blood are crawling up my arms, across my face, into my mouth...
Silence. In the dark, a hundred men are breathing in unison.
I look at Cowboy, then at Private Barnard. They understand. Cold grins of death are frozen on their faces. They nod.
The newly minted Marines in my platoon stand to attention, horizontal in their racks, their weapons at port arms.
The Marines wait, a hundred young werewolves with guns in their hands.
I lead:
This is my rifle.
There are many like it, but this one is mine...

Part 2 "Body Count" - quotes from Allen Ginsberg, Howl - "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked"; and William S. Burroughs -"A pschychotic is a guy who's just found out what's going on". Joker in VN at time of Tet 1968 as correspondent. Quote p. 70-1 singing Mickey Mouse Song after killing and burying VC rats (compare rat scene in AQWF and "King and Country"):

We bury the enemy rats with full military honors - we scoop out a shallow grave and we dump them in.
We sing:
So come along and sing our song
And join our fam-i-ly...
M.I.C..... K.E.Y.... M.O.U.S.E.
Mickey Nouse, Mickey Mouse
"Dear God," says Mr. Payback, looking up into the ugly sky. "These rats died like Marines. Cut them some slack. Ah-men."
We all say, "Ah-men."

Part 3 "Grunts" - quote from Thoreau, Civil Disobedience - "Behold a Marine, a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, buried under arms with funereal accompaniments...". Joker reassigned to combat duty at Khe Sanh. Quote p. 175-6 law of jungle is that more Marines go out than return, war is a black crab feeding in one's brain. Joker says:

Today I am a sergeant of Marines.
I laugh and laugh. The squad freezes with fear because the sniper is laughing with me. The sniper and I are laughing together and we know that sooner or later the squad will be laughing, too.
Sooner or later the squad will surrender to the black design of the jungle. We live by the law of the jungle, which is that more Marine go in than come out. There it is. Nobody asks us why we're smiling because nobody wants to know. The ugly that civilians choose to see in war focuses on spilled guts. To see human beings clearly, that is ugly. To carry death in your smile, that is ugly. War is ugly because the truth can be ugly and war is very sincere. Ugly is the face of Victor Charlie, the shapeless black face of death touching each of your brothers with the clean stroke of justice.
Those of us who survive to be short-timers will fly the Freedom Bird back to hometown America. But home won't be there anymore and we won't be there either. Upon each of our brains the war has lodged itslef, a black crab feeding.
The jungle is quiet now. The sniper has stopped laughing.
The squad is silent, waiting for orders. Soon they will understand. Soon they won't be afraid. The dark side will surface and they'll be like me; they'll be Marines.
Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Screenwriter Michael Herr

Acclaimed journalist who wrote post-modern account, Dispatches (1978), of VN.


Meaning of the Title

Title "Full Metal Jacket" refers to type of round Pyle loads into rifle when he kills Sgt Hartman and commits suicide - 7.62 mm high-velocity copper-jacketed bullet (Hasford, p. 30).


  • Matthew Modine - Pvt Joker
  • Adam Baldwin - Animal Mother
  • Vincent D'Onofrio - Leonard Lawrence ("Gomer Pyle")
  • Lee Ermey - Gunnery Sgt. Hartman
  • Dorian Harewood - Eightball
  • Arliss Howard - Pvt Cowboy
  • Kevyn Major Howard - Rafterman
  • Ed O'Ross - Walter J. Schinoski ("Lt. Touchdown")
  • John Stafford - Doc Jay
  • John Terry - Lt. Lockhart
  • Kirk Taylor - Payback
  • Ian Tyler - Lt. Cleves
  • Keiron Jecchinis - Crazy Earl

One critic described film as "a perversely fascinating movie - one that answers no questions, offers no hope, and has no meaning" (p. 61, War Movies (Cinebooks, 1989)). Interesting contrast between jungle warfare depicted in "Platoon" and the warfare of FMJ - training camp and then city fighting in Hué during Tet offensive of 1968. Screenplay written by SK, Michael Herr (of Dispatches) and Hasford (who wrote novel The Short Timers). Gustav Hasford served as a combat correspondent with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. Set reconstructed 1930s architecture of city of Hué in buildings owned by British Gas in London's East End (bombed out during WW2 and further destroyed by SK). Buildings to be demolished were dynamited and destroyed by wrecking ball to create effect of war-torn Hué. Film divided into three sections.

First section (43/116 mins) deals with basic training of marines at Parris Island, South Carolina. Transformation of raw recruits into killers/marines. Note how individuality of recruits broken down. Note "chickenshit" petty discipline described by Paul Fussell in Wartime. Concentration on drill sergeant Hartman and two privates - Joker and Pyle. Language of intimidation and abuse of H. Pyle fat and uncoordinated, picked on by H until Pyle retaliates by killing H and commits suicide.

Second part (13/116 mins) concerns Joker's experience as journalist (like Hasford) for army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, in VN but not on frontline duty. J has ambition of being a writer and requests newspaper assignment. Growing disillusionment with job of writing euphemisms and covering up truth. Only allowed to write two kinds of stories - about "winning hearts and minds" and action which gets "confirmed kills" of enemy. Eventually wants to see frontline combat, to get "trigger time." Ironic ambivalence of J - wears a peace badge but has written on helmet "Born to Kill." On the way to the front J rides in a helicopter and asks gunner who is shooting at peasants in a field "How can you kill women and children." Gunner's macabre answer- "You just don't lead them so much" (i.e. you don't aim so far ahead of them because they do not run as fast as soldiers/men). Even-handed treatment of atrocities. J sees a "burial pit" into which NVA has allegedly put shot civilians (or were they civilians killed by US bombardment?).

Part 3 (60/116 mins) concerns Joker in Hué during Tet offensive in January 1968 - the same period covered by "Platoon". Although sent to cover events for newspaper, Joker meets up with fellow recruit Cowboy and sees combat duty in streets of Hué during Tet offensive. House-to-house fighting. Platoon pinned down by sniper in building. Heavy casualties. Joker kills sniper with pistol. Initiation into profession of killing. Culmination of his training as Marine. Concludes with marines singing Walt Disney "Mickey Mouse Song" (M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E) as they march along river at sunset.

The Myth of John Wayne in Vietnam: soldiers who played war movies "in their head".

The powerful image of the heroic US soldier created by Wayne was influential in shaping the thinking of young US troops in Vietnam, who had been brought up with John Wayne movies on TV. As one soldier observed to Mark Baker - "I was seduced by World War II and John Wayne movies." (Baker, NAM, p. 12). Many imagined themeselves to be Wayne-like heroes and the tragically inappropriate attempt by 19 year old soldiers to mimic John Wayne no doubt led to too many unncecessary deaths. The confusion of identity created by these myths of heroism is expressed by the character Cowboy in Gustav Hasford's novel The Short-Timers but which which was made by Joker in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket: "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?" (Hasford, p. 4; Screenplay, p. 4). Hasford coined the expression "to do a John Wayne" in The Short-Timers (1979), p. 107. The American journalist Michael Herr reflects on the impact of movie-made heroism in the minds of the young soldiers he observed in Vietnam in 1968:

I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don't know what a media freak is until you've seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. (Herr, Dispatches, p. 169.)

The journalists as well interpreted what they saw in Vietnam through the lens of the cinema or TV camera. Michael Herr (who also wrote the screenplay for Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) noted in the style of the "New Journalism":

"...Wow I love it in the movies when they say like,"Okay Jim, where do you want it?"'

'Right! Right! Yeah, beautiful, I don't want it at all! haw, shit... where do you fucking want it?'

Mythopathic moment; Fort Apache, where Henry Fonda as the new colonel says to John Wayne, the old hand, 'We saw some Apache as we neared the Fort,' and John Wayne says, 'If you saw them, sir, they weren't Apache.' But this colonel is obsessed, brave like a maniac, not very bright, a West Point aristo wounded in his career and his pride, posted out to some Arizona shithole with only marginal consolation: he is a professional and this is a war, the only war we've got. So he gives the John Wayne information a pass and he and half his command get wiped out. More a war movie than a Western, Nam paradigm, Vietnam, not a movie, no jive cartoon either where the characters get smacked around and electrocuted and dropped from heights, flattened out and frizzed black and broken like a dish, then up again and whole and back in the game, "Nobody dies,' as someone said in another war movie. (Herr, Dispatches, p. 44.)

For Herr, the Vietnam war was a movie (Dispatches, p. 153). Not The Green Berets ("That really wasn't about Vietnam, it was about Santa Monica") but The Quiet American or better still Catch-22. For those brought up on the powerful images of John Wayne's mythic heroism there was much that had to be unlearned if one was to understand what the war was about and thus stay alive:

A lot of things had to be unlearned before you could learn anything at all, and even after you knew better you couldn't avoid the ways things got mixed, the war itself with those parts of the war that were just like the movies, just like The Quiet American or Catch-22 (a Nam standard because it said that in a war everybody thinks that everybody else is crazy), just like all that combat footage from television ... , your vision blurring, images jumping and falling as though they were being received by a dropped camera... (Herr, Dispatches, pp. 169-70.)


Gustav Hasford, The Short-Timers (New York: Bantam, 1979, 1987). Extracts, pp. 92-101.

Full Metal Jacket. The Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford (London: Secker and Warburg, 1987).

Michael Herr, Dispatches (London: Picador, 1978).

Mark Baker, Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There (London: Abacus, 1982)


  • Differences between novel and film - basic training section very similar, SK conflates the 2 sniper episodes in novel (one in urban Hué, the other in the jungle) into one. Novel much more violent and bleak than film (if this is imaginable!).
  • SK's reworking (i.e. undermining) of the conventions of the traditional combat film. See Jeanine Basinger, The World War II Combat Film (1986): basic training, emergence of hero who leads group on mission, group has observer or commentator, appearance of enemy, use of military icons (weapons, equipment), conflict within group which is resolved, enactment of past and present miltiary rituals, some members of group die, climactic battle occurs, individuals learn and develop as a result, audience ennobled in watching and sharing combat expereince of group.
  • Loss of individuality of recruits in basic training. Opening haircuts or "scalping" prelude and metaphor for brainwashing to follow in basic training. Transformation of individuals into robots, then killers, then Marines, "ministers of death praying for war". Loss of humanity and individuality (hair, names - H gives them nicknames such as Snowball/Negro, Joker, Gomer Pyle, Cowboy - clothes, language, and sex - H calls them ladies and otherwise ridicules/challenges their sexuality). Training camp white, antiseptic, clinical, with no trace of individual taste permitted. Only people we see in film are military personnel. Outside world no longer exists once recruits step into training camp. Only civilians we see are VN prostitutes. Purpose of basic training is to break down individual, create strong group identity, overcome inhibitions against killing. Compare with training scenes in Milestone's "AQWF" (1930). SK's camera technique reinforces theme of anti-individualism. Many shots as symmetrical and antiseptic as USMC barracks. Eye of viewer is directed into centre of shot. Totalitarian symmetry of army. Destruction of Leonard Lawrence/Gomer Pyle metaphor for destruction of individual. He does not overreact to intolerable and inhumane situation, he "malfunctions." He is most individual of all the recruits. Larger, fatter, different in many ways. Made to stand out from crowd because less coordinated, less quick to pick up training. Punished by H - walk behind recruits with pants around ankles, sucking his thumb like child, struck on face for not knowing difference between left and right (compare with slapping of Japanese soldiers in Kobayashi's "The Human Condition"). Then H forces recruits to turn on him to avoid group punishments - thrashing of Pyle by other recruits with towel and soap. Gradually P withdraws into simian brutishness, talks to rifle, at same time begins to respond to training, especially firing his rifle. Becomes a "clockwork orange"- unthinking killer. Found day after graduation sitting on toilet late at night with rifle, kills H and commits suicide. Dies astride a toilet. H tells recruits on several occasions they are in "a world of shit."
  • The extraordinarily foul but fluent language of drill instructor. 40 minutes of insults and profanity by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey - non professional actor and former marine, provided SK with 20 hours of tapes of parade ground obscenities). In spite of fluency and imagination of H in inventing new ways of insulting people with a limited vocabulary, H is actually inarticulate. Very little of substance is communicated aside from disdain for recruits. "Shit" and "fuck" are all pervasive. Contrasted with H's language are snatches of private conversation of recruits. Language as depersonalising as everything else in basic training. See Fussell's Wartime for discussion of why soldiers swear so much.
  • The rifle as an extension of the penis. Association between male sex organ and rifle pervasive and explicit. Marching cadence: "I don't want no high school (teenage?) queen, only ... my M14." Sleep with rifle and give it girl's name (Pyle's rifle's name is "Sharlene"). They are "married to their piece". Scene where H leads them in underwear clutching rifle in one hand and penis in other shouting "This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun." Taught to consider rifle not only as extension of male body but also as "best friend" and "my life." Marine Corps credo which recruits have to recite lying in bed is barely literate but expresses philosophy of corps:
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life.
Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true?. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will.
Before God I swear this creed: My rifle and myself are defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviours of my life. So be it... until there is no enemy... but peace. Amen (Screenplay, pp. 13-18).
  • Animal Mother says he is not fighting for a good cause like freedom but for "poontang" (sex).
  • The breakdown of the "Green Machine" in Vietnam in second part of film; questions the appropriateness of the basic training depicted in part one.
  • The sniper in Hué. Slow motion shots when Eightball hit by VC sniper. Like Sam Peckinpah western who pioneered technique in Wild Bunch (1969) and The Cross of Iron. Eightball offers himself to VN prostitute who refuses because fears negro penis "too beaucoup." Eightball shows penis to reassure her, later shot in groin by sniper in slow motion. J attempts to shoot sniper with rifle but it jams. Later decides to administer coup de grâce to dying sniper (like officer Hargreaves in "King and Country"). Others want to let sniper die slowly in revenge for killing friends. J looks very pleased with himself after shooting sniper. Voice over tells us how pleased he is to be alive. Is this act one of mercy shown towards dying sniper? Or act of mercy for himself? Or revenge "payback" for the death of friend Cowboy? In killing sniper J realises and completes his training as marine. Validates his military career (his masculinity?). Companion describes his act as "Hard core man, fucking hard core" ("Hard Core" form of pornography). Irony of female sniper killing American Marines after their sexist/misogynous training. If rifle is extension of penis how can woman be any good at using it? Reason for shame by marines. Doubles need to kill her.
  • The use of the camera as a "rifle." Connection being made between shooting gun and camera. Many images of soldiers with cameras - Rafterman has camera stolen at street café by VN on motorbike, R and J have come to photograph combat, cameramen interviewing soldiers during and after fighting, camera linked to sniper's rifle as raised to fire through window. Cameras "shoot" like guns. Reasons interviewed soldiers give for what they are doing in VN. Fighting for freedom or for pleasure of killing? J flippantly says to camera "I wanted to come to exotic VN, the jewell of South East Asia, meet interesing people and kill them To be the first kid on the block to get a confirmed kill." Compare appearance of Coppola as cameraman in "Apocalypse Now".
  • The childlike behaviour of the soldiers. Herr states that VN was what these young men instead of a childhood. Ending has J and platoon marching towards Perfume River singing "Mickey Mouse Song." (Other reference to Mickey Mouse when Sgt Hartman asks "What is this Mickey Mouse shit" as he his taken into latrine to confront Pyle; in novel mouseketeer ears wired onto head of dead VC, sing song after killing rats). Troops are childlike (called children by a general in "Paths of Glory"), show no concern, remorse for what has happened or happened to them. Functioning like tools/robots/killers they were trained to become. Sense of inevitability that their training would lead to this. Reference to influence of TV on Vietnam generation of soldiers:westerns, John Wayne, war movies, Disneyland. Reversion to the certainties of childhood after trauma of battle.
  • The use of music and songs: "Hello Vietnam" (country and western song - patriotic and pro-war), Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking" (large advertising billboard with caricature of Asian face), "Chapel of Love", "Wooly Bully" (banal party song), "Surfin' Bird", "The Marines Hymn" (at basic training - "from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli... the streets are guarded by the United States Marines". Many combat films end with Marines Hymn), Disney's "Mickey Mouse Song" (Marines marching through burning city of Hué), film ends with Rolling Stones "Paint it Black" (also used in TV series "Tour of Duty"):
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes...
I look inside myself and see my heart is black...
Maybe I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy when your whole world is black...
Paint it black!...Paint it black!...Paint it black!
  • The references to John Wayne. I counted at least 14 references to JW in Hasford's novel The Short Timers. On several occasions Joker does imitation of John Wayne and on one occasion J says "A day without blood is a day without sunshine." Link made between Gooks and Indians, and thus genre of cowboy/western film. "We'll let the Gooks be the Indians."