Thoughts On: Full Metal Jacket - The Jungian Thing


Full Metal Jacket - The Jungian Thing

Thoughts On: Full Metal Jacket

A story in two parts, following Private Joker Davis through basic training into the Vietnam war.

There's many ways to watch this film, and dependant on the looking glass you choose, this film can be many things. If you want to see a war film, well, you're not going to really get one with Full Metal Jacket. The first 40 mins will be thrilling and then with the second half there will be a tonal drop off where the pacing goes a little awry and the film loses its gravitas. On the other hand, if you choose to see this film as a soldier's story, not a strict war film, then it becomes something a lot more. Upon release this film was compared to the likes of Apocalypse Now and Platoon - and critically didn't fair that well all across the board. That's because these are two immense war films. Apocalypse Now has an expanse, it's a thematic sound-stage that amplifies character struggles and internal conflicts through action. (Click here for more on it). Platoon on the other hand is all about the experience of war. It puts you in the shit and tears you apart with the struggles of its characters. Full Metal Jacket distinguishes itself from these two behemoths by not playing them at their own game. It takes one step further into the soul of the soldier. These films really support each other when you see them like this. Apocalypse Now is about a wider philosophy of humanity, Platoon is about the emotions of a soldier and his interactions with war, leaving Full Metal Jacket to be about an acute philosophy of self under the pressure of that wider idea of humanity. So, to get into this philosophical milieu we're going to need to cover a bit of psychodynamic psychology. As the title suggests we'll be looking at Jungian terminology here. Don't worry, there's no need to get too deep into things. Like Freud, Jung's psychological theory is very philosophical, meaning, not very scientific. But, to dismiss both works on the grounds that they're unscientific would be wrong as they have clear benefits and uses. This is hopefully what we'll find out with Full Metal Jacket. Psychodynamics gives people tools of assessment, and the two tools Jung supplies with his all important 'thing' is all to do with the duality of man. This means that there's two sides to us. There's the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Freudian theory suggests that people's minds are comprised of things we do control and can monitor and things we can't. This is quite simply the conscious and unconscious. Jung makes the further distinction to explain why we do irrational things. We do them for ourselves, for personal gain, or we do things for others, for the group. Furthermore, there's things unique to us personally and there's things we all do - all unconsciously. Taking this idea into Full Metal Jacket is the best way to watch this film, not really as a movie but an art piece, and that's what we're going to do now.

The easiest way to then do this is to walk through the film. So, it's the beginning we start with Johnnie Wright's Hello Vietnam. It's this song alone that serves as the only true and traditional character building in this film. It suggests that characters have a past, that they are leaving loved ones behind for obligation. The lyrics:

Kiss, me goodbye and write me while I'm gone  
Good bye, my sweetheart, Hello Viet, nam.

America has heard the bugle, call
And you know it involves us, one an all
I don't suppose that war will ever  end
There's fighting that will break us up a gain.

Good bye, my darling, Hello Viet nam
A hill to take, a battle to be won
Kiss me goodbye and write me while I'm gone
Good bye, my sweetheart, Hello Viet nam.

A ship is waiting for us at the dock
America has trouble to be stopped
We must stop Communism in that land
Or freedom will start slipping through our hands.   

I hope and pray someday the world will learn
That fires we don't put out, will bigger burn
We must save freedom now, at any cost
Or someday, our own freedom will be lost.

Kiss me goodbye and write me while I'm gone
Good bye, my sweetheart, Hello Viet, nam.

This is a very pro-war song. It implies that sacrifice is necessary, that the freedom of the masses holds weight over the plight of the individual. It does, however, have an underlying sense of paranoia, that 'we must stop Communism in that land or freedom will start slipping through our hands'. As a concept, it's hard to say whether this fear or paranoia is healthy, productive, beneficial or not. But, what is clear here is that a collectively unconscious idea of freedom is essential. In the film, it's implied that this idea is about to consume the soldiers. This is simply done through simple juxtaposition...

Cutting the hair off of the soldiers is a fundamental way of taking away personality. It does this by making everyone look the same and taking away personal choice. So, with the intro to the film, we're told that maybe Joker had a girlfriend, a life beyond the army, but that he is willingly stripping that away from himself. We then move to one of my favourite scenes of all time.

I don't want to delve too deep into this scene as I'm saving that for a later post. But, there are a few key ideas that we need to take forward from this segment. The first is that the soldiers are going to be systematised, stripped apart, and built back up again - they know this. They are later told they're not going to be made into robots, but killers, killing machines. It's this scene that makes you beg the difference between a robot and a machine, furthermore, a soldier and a communist. Semantically, the two are different, but essentially they are the same thing - depersonalised shells that feed a common cause. So, the core idea of this film, and of basic training as a whole, is that there's an indefinable contradiction hidden somewhere within. The next main take away from the opening scene is that Joker joined the marine corp to kill. It's this statement that confirms what the opening implies. Joker has been consumed by a concept, he's committed to a collectively unconscious idea of protecting the masses' freedom. It's exactly this that already has you questioning the film, that has you questioning whether it's right to be pro or anti-war, and to what degree. We all know that violence is bad, but sometimes necessary. This means we need soldiers and military. But, on top of this, very few of us would volunteer to become a soldier and fight. So, what makes the question of pro and anti-war so hard is that most of are made to feel pretty shitty by it. The average civilian wants to be protected, but isn't willing to do it themselves, and so is appreciative of soldiers despite not really understanding them and what it takes to be them. This is at large the collective unconscious surrounding war, violence and the military. We need it, but don't make me join. This idea is at the core of Joker's character and is encapsulated by the theme of fear. However, this doesn't come into play in the first half of the film. We have to wait for that.

So, staying with basic training, I think it's important to notice just how immersive this segment is. It does this by polarising itself against what comes before and after it. It doesn't give characters back stories which seals you into the moment of the film and it is stylistically and tonally a million miles away from the jump into Vietnam. The best way I can explain this is by appealing to all of those who have watched this film through to the end and tried to think about the beginning again. It's practically a completely different film. Hartman and Pyle are distant ideas, as is this image:

Thinking of the soldiers as bald, stripped and weak is near impossibly after almost an hour of this:

Kubrick ensures this with framing and colour composition. The pallet throughout the first half of this film is grey, white, beige - always bland. The framing is also always regimented, Kubrick always shooting from a distance, ensuring the voidal emptiness of each setting is captured perfectly. On the other hand, out in the open during the second half the frame is almost always crowded. Kubrick only allows space to seep into the top of his frame which only acts as a means of forcing the eye down toward characters. The pallet is also bland here, but with earthy hues, greens, browns, muted blacks. This all gives the impression that we are in a completely different world and atmosphere. It's hostile, tense and you don't want to be lost in it, whereas back on base it's hostile tense, and despite the space, you're trapped under someone else's control.

This control is implemented by Hartman onto the soldiers through psychological contortion. It's by creating a new collective unconscious that Hartman converts his soft boys into men and then into killing machines. This is best understood with two recurrent ideas. The first is the gun, it's the Rifleman's Creed. This is the Rifleman's Creed:

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 the defenders of my country.
We are the masters of our enemy.
We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

This is an abridged version of current creed, but captures the fundamental concept. The one thing that is important that is cut out of this version is:

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life.

This is the core idea and guiding force of basic training. It teaches the men that they represent a cause and that that cause is war or the sake of peace. This cause is murder and they are to become it, they are to become their gun. There is a key distinction between the gun becoming them and them becoming the gun. The creed states that the gun is supposed to become human. But, what the film shows is that they are to become the gun, they are to become the killing machine. This is the essential element of depersonalisation throughout basic training, and is also the contradiction inherent to the experience that is the ultimate undoing of certain character (but we'll come to that later). This is all reinforced by Hartman's second means of psychological contortion. Hartman is obsessed with...

... dick and balls. The pun in this scene is connected to the Rifleman's Creed:

This is my rifle, this is my gun.
This is for fighting, this is for fun.

It implies that the men have two destructive tools. Their rifle and their dick, aptly named, their gun. Now, if we flash forward to the end, we see the insinuation of this pun.

When his rifle fails on him, Joker reaches for his gun, but fails to use it. Mix this with the constant reference to sex, Alabama black snakes, fucking sisters and having balls you have the phenomena of shit talking down to a T. It's fun, but ineffectual. To pretend it is, is a lie and very dangerous. This is why Hartman beats it into their heads that they are gay, that they like to suck dick, fuck men in the ass - and all without the common decency to give them a reach around. His intention here is to beat the men into the ground, taking away an aspect of their nature, telling them that their personally unconscious impulses are bullshit. This means of humbling his men fails in a certain respect (in respect to the end and Joker) just like it does with Pyle. Hartman wants to break him down to build him again. Before getting to that though, it's best to recognise the moment Joker is broken into.

It's this scene. Having denied belief in the Virgin Mary, Joker is beaten, but sticks to what he believes. He does not let Hartman control his personal unconscious - his belief system. Now, this may seem like Joker, not Hartman, is the victor of the situation. But, what Hartman picks up on guts. Guts is enough. It's the fact that Joker's starting to grow beyond the control of him. This is purpose of the training. It's not to change a soldier's personally unconscious way of thinking completely, but their collective way of thinking and interpreting the world. As mentioned before, a generally collective means of thinking around war would be that it's wrong to kill and that battle is terrifying. That's why we're not all soldiers. Thus, all Hartman has to do is convince his men to commit to the philosophy that war is intrinsically imperative to freedom is violence - action. Again, their rifles must become themselves, they must become their rifles.

Having recognised Joker's new found guts, Hartman assigns Pyle under his command. This is the beginning of Pyle's end, and it's because Hartman is not attacking his collective unconscious any more. He can't get through to him the importance of the corp, the idea of brotherhood the same way he would other men. So, instead he allows the corp to 'persuade' him what is right and what is wrong. That's why this...

... is what breaks Pyle. Kubrick tell us this. This moment only happens because Pyle leaves his footlocker unlocked. The footlocker is metaphorically Pyle. It being unlocked is not a good sign - it's weakness. Inside Hartman finds the symbolic weakness of Pyle's character. It's good food. Pyle most probably so fat because he enjoys eating - it's where he find happiness. The same goes for the rest of the men but with sex. This is why Hartman attacks them on this basis, the men bounce back though, still obsessed with dick and pussy until the very end. Pyle doesn't have the capacity for this. He's broken into and stripped of all personal character. Further this with the corp raining down on him a shit storm of soap blocks and you can see how both his personal and collective unconscious is being conditioned against himself. He's being taught that he should hate himself and that he's simply not good enough. This would be ok, if he had conditions by which he could otherwise be accepted (like the other men with their bravado). They have their guns and they have brotherhood. Pyle has his gun, but no brotherhood. He's an unprogrammed killing machine. This fault brought about by a misguided method of conditioning has him destroy his creator...

... and then hit self-destruct...

It's in this that we can understand the term Full Metal Jacket. It's in reference to the loaded clip in a gun, but remembering that the rifle is metaphorically the soldier we can see Pyle as his gun - which explains why he says the Rifleman's Creed before blowing himself and Hartman away. Pyle almost wears his gun, a Jacket, and for it to be full of metal suggests he is nowhere to be found. That he is empty, a shell, and that that shell nothing more than a symbol of violence.

It's here that we get an abrupt jump to Vietnam, a jump that practically disregards the most powerful scene of the movie. Because this is a story told from the perspective of Joker this is completely understandable. He puts the memory of the training camp and Pyle at such a distance from himself that it might as well not exist (repression). He did the same thing in the beginning of the film with his life as a civilian. What remains though is dick and balls, personal unconsciousness, id immersed impulse - which is exactly why you then immediately get the infamous 'sucky, sucky' and 'me so horny'. The proceeding movement through the remainder of the narrative is a conglomeration of contradictory scenes. This is best seen through the night of the Tet offensive. It proceeds constant and flagrant shit talking by all men about 1000 yard stares, John Wayne and the illusive shit. The only words when the bombs start falling and the gooks start raining down on them though are I'm not ready for this, and Amen. This happens time and time again in escalating circumstances that eventually take us to the very end. But, before jumping to that, we have to make clear the driving theme of the second half of the film. Fear. Fear is not a bad thing. Fear is tantamount to intelligence in many circumstances, it's simply knowing when not to put yourself in danger. The only reason why fear isn't law though is because sometimes you have to fight. But, looking at the context of Joker's war and the serious doubt of the general public regarding it, it'd be hard to not hold onto fear as law when fighting the Viet Cong soldiers. This is why Joker doesn't join general infantry, but is assigned to journalism and war correspondence. This job keeps him out of the shit, and introduces us to a very important figure:

Lockhart knows the shit and he didn't like it, 'too dangerous'. It's then fair to infer that this character is simply a more experienced version of Joker. With the end of the film, Joker having killed the young girl, it's easy to see him crawling back to the office and keeping his head down and dick between his legs until the war is over. That's if he makes it through the remaining battle around the Perfume River.

The reason why fear is so important to the latter half of the film is because life, living and surviving basically comes down to stupidity and brains replacing just guts. Most importantly the psychological battle is now completely dependant on unconsciousness. Fear is intrinsic to human nature, and so is a very important tool. In circumstances such as battle, fear is an important factor. Pure fearlessness probably isn't a good sign. It can make you feel invincible, but will block rational thought. And stress is probably one of the best drugs for speeding up, streamlining the brain, forcing you to rely on your unconscious reflexes whilst making higher and pragmatic decisions. Stress otherwise known as fear. This is not to say that fear can't kill you. Fear can lead to hesitance, can lead to frivolity, which'll kill you quick. There must be a balance is the point. And it's with the ending that Joker considers himself fearless, which for him means stupid. For the likes of an Animal Mother on the other hand, well, it's in the shit and under fire that he supposedly becomes one of the finest human beings. The lasting take away is then that Joker has devolved as a character - or at least tells us he has. He, in short, looses the strength of he had in this moment:

The final thing to look at before the ending will be the general collective unconsciousness of a soldier in face of his personal unconsciousness. We see general unconsciousness in battle with the need to survive and kill, but near the end with the interviews a small piece of the soldier's personal opinion is presented. What's interesting about this is that the political facts of the Vietnam war are never said explicitly, neither is the true emotional experience of soldiers shown. We see aftermaths and snippets of bravado - all acts. Truth is much better presented by Apocalypse Now and Platoon, What the interviews demonstrate though is that, to this film, the personal and varied opinions of people have more weight than the facts. Through this we begin to see a kind of zeitgeist, a specific and nuanced set of collectively unconscious ideals. With the soldiers we are then seeing a phenomena of behaviour that is not really a generally collective unconsciousness. This is because it's not exactly normal for the average person to want to kill people - even for the sake of freedom and the possible risk of losing it all. Taking this into the final battle where Joker loses the last of his friends and ends up killing a young girl, he's soon forced to recognise that his personal unconsciousness has slowly been taken over. He has become a Metal Jacket. He has no true personality, maybe all that remains of it is a distant echo of childhood - which is why he and the men sing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme. This is the final sombre realisation of character in this film. Everyone devolves or dies. Everyone who tries to do the right thing, remain positive or tries to be intelligent, dies. Anyone who shows compassion is shot down or attacked - and all so everyone embodies a contorted collective unconsciousness. The duality of man is broken down by the end of this film. War has a monopoly over these boys.

The message of Full Metal Jacket then becomes obvious. It's about consciousness, not unconsciousness and it comes back to Jung, Freud and psychology. The first step of solving a problem is always recognising that you have one. Why is this? It's all to do with consciousness. You need to have a conscious grip on what could be a unconscious driving force - the problem. When you're admitted to therapy, it could be CBT, free association or even dream analysis, you're taught how to monitor what you feel and how to deal with it, how to break it down and know what is effecting your unconscious state and how that is effecting your behaviour. What then seems to be most important is simple self-awareness. This is the key to a myriad, maybe even a lot, of psychological issues. It's knowing how to deal with yourself (yes, sometimes with the aid of drugs). But, to then deal with yourself you have to have some kind of idea of who you are and how you got there. You mustn't be the product of someone else - something alien you don't understand - like a marine corp, or worse, war.

The final thing to pull apart is then the difference between killers and robots. Robots don't know they're conscious. A killer does. This is why collectivism, being a soldier or joining the army is not a bad thing. You can be apart of the system without becoming it. The system often wants to consume you. What Full Metal Jacket argues is that you simply can't let it do that, and that your strongest defense is psychology, it's ultimately knowing who you are and what that Jungian thing is.

To find out why this is apart of the Receptacle Series please check out...

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