Film & Water #143 – Full Metal Jacket



Rob welcomes Terry Mahoney, a former active duty Marine who served from 1990-1996, to discuss Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam drama FULL METAL JACKET.

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24 responses to “Film & Water #143 – Full Metal Jacket

  1. Loved Terry’s insights and sharing his experience. I’m a “muggle” too when it comes to this world.

    While I would usually talk about Kubrick’s “coldness” or “detachment” as a director, this is probably his most HUMAN film. The detachment isn’t the director’s, it’s an element of a story which is essentially about how you create killers. It’s a companion piece to A Clockwork Orange – with similar contrasting music and images in addition to its theme of violence – but more immediate and real by virtue of the near-historical setting that is the Vietnam War. The detachment, then, is the necessary ingredient that turns an empathetic human being into a creature that can (and even wants to) commit murder. Kubrick isn’t cold here – we feel for his characters – but he is impressively PRECISE. His shots are symmetrical tableaux where random, chaotic things happen as if on cue. One example: Matthew Modine’s character wear a Peace symbol that keeps creeping out of shot when he is forced to finally kill someone. When it’s out of shot/in shadow, he fires. Kubrick, man.

    Now, most people I’ve talked to or read tend to think of FMJ as two films (Kubrick usually works from a multi-act structure), and only really love the first. And it’s true the way Act I concludes makes it a rather perfect mini-movie. But to say the rest of the film doesn’t quite satisfy is, I think, missing the point (you gentlemen didn’t), as is calling it the second of 2 acts. There are really 3 clear acts in FMJ, each advancing the basic theme. In Act I, we see how creating killers can yield unfortunate results. In Act II, Joker goes to Vietnam where he encounters several “institutional” killers, killing for the State, but not necessarily anything other than murderers (that’s where the film’s ambiguity comes from – what killing is “acceptable”? Is context enough, or does intent matter?). Act III is the entire sequence where Cowboy’s squad faces off against a sniper, where again these questions are asked, and where Joker in particular must answer them for himself.

    Full Metal Jacket is in my holy Kubrick trinity with Dr Strangelove and 2001.

  2. I served with Terry in the USMC. He is the real deal… good podcast… loved every minute of it..!!!

    Oooh Rahh..!! S/F

  3. Nice job guys. After seeing the movie & listening to your episode I’m certain I was never cut out for the military. I’m reminded of Woody Allen’s line about being designated 4P by the selective service: In the event of of war – I’m a hostage.

    I guess all those episodes of Gomer Pyle USMC where they spend lots of time at singing contests, going on picnics & general hi jinx were all a lie.

    1. Chuck,

      NOPE! They may not have been perverted enough to be real, but that goofball shit when you are stateside is de rigeur.



  4. Thanks for all the laudatory comments, folks. I have been super busy, and waiting til my wife and I could listen to it together, so I haven’t had the chance yet. Going to on my long-ass commute tomorrow morning.

    Siskoid, I completely appreciate your point about this being in three acts, and only have one small correction, from my perspective. Act I ends with Pyle’s suicide, and Act II ends on the helicopter ride. It is a grim presage for what is to come. Everything before that was goofy bullshit, not the real war. Not goofy bullshit in the quality of the filmmaking, but a perfectly encapsulated chunk of time showing what being in the rear with the gear means. Sure, you’re “at war” in some ways, but the stark terror and pulsating evil of war is nowhere visible.

    Semper Fi,


    Troy! YUT!

      1. Not that much differently, but Kubrick eases us into that scene that starts at the wall. Joker is our guide, dipping into the horrors of war from the shallow end. The sniper scene is magnificent, but it is just the crescendo of a greater arc of the third act.

        I’ll rewatch that part and tell you exactly what I think. I’m really not splitting hairs to be a prick. You brought up a GREAT point that opened my eyes; I’m just working through it, refining my perception of it.


    1. Chuck, I can ONLY speak to the Marine Corps. The lesser services are sphinx-like to me. If I had to guess, the Army was most like Stripes, the Navy most like Down Periscope, and the Air Force most like the My Little Pony Movie: The Road to Canterlot.

      As far as USMC movies/pop culture, I REALLY liked the Pacific, FMJ, and Generation Kill on HBO. I dug Jarhead, because I was in Desert Storm and remember the let-down when the Iraqis just surrendered. The DI with Jack Webb is another winner, mostly because it plays in a constant loop on the CCTV aboard Parris Island. I’m sure I’m missing some, but you won’t go wrong with those.

      Flags of our Fathers and its companion Letters from Iwo Jima are wicked powerful.

      And a Few Good Men. It’s a classic shakespearian tragedy, wherein our hero, the colonel, is harried by the small minded dregs of society, and finally brought down by his pride.

    2. Chuck, okay, I can’t provide anything like Terry but I do know one Marine film. I’m a big fan of Lon Chaney, Sr. and in 1926, Lon was in the second highest grossing film and the highest for his career, TELL IT TO THE MARINES.

      Lon would become the first film star to be made an honorary Marine and when he died in 1930, the Marine Corps. provided both a chaplain and an Honorary Guard. He apparently became close friends with the general who served as technical supervisor as well. Below is an excerpt that seems strikingly similar to Terry Mahoney’s fond reminiscences.

      “A writer in ‘Leatherneck Magazine’ wrote that “few of us who observed Chaney’s portrayal of his role were not carried away to the memory of some sergeant we had known whose behavior matched that of the actor in every minute detail …”

      1. Those are some fantastic insights Rob. I had not seen that movie but will certainly take a look at it. If I think too I will come back here and let you know my thoughts

    1. Game over man.

      At least you didn’t mention that abomination Starship Troopers.

      But now that you make me think of it yes I completely agree that that movie portrays the nuclear family of a small unit of Marines really well. The interplay between the different characters, the feats of strength, and just the overall feel of it was pretty well done.

      I like how they switched from goofing around and fucking with each other to mission focused. It’s like an on off switch. Very well done

      1. Apone: All right guys, we’re a team and there’s nothing to worry about. We come here, we kick some, we conquer. Is that understood?
        Marines: YES SIR!
        Apone: That’s what we gonna do, sweethearts. We gonna go and get some. All right people, on the ready line!

  5. Excellent episode, gentlemen! Thanks for the interesting insight and thoughtful commentary on Full Metal Jacket and life as a U.S. Marine.

    I’ve spent most of my career supporting the U.S. and Canadian militaries on various contracts (never enlisted for personal reasons). While each of the services has its own unique culture, I’d have to say the U.S. Marine Corps was easily the most unique.

    1. If by most unique you mean these ones go up to 11 in the style of Nigel tufnel, I completely agree with you. I don’t think I mentioned it on the podcast but how I like to explain what bootcamp does to people is that it’s essentially an auto body shop. People role in, and Society has put Governors on their actions much like a car manufacturer will put a governor on their engine. Parris Island removes those governors. So you are steeped in the culture of the Marine Corps but you are also the most honest expression of yourself. I can totally see why you would have had that reaction

      Semper Fi, Terry

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