Rewatched Apr 23, 2012
Jacob Olsen’s review:
This film has always given me a deep sense of unease. This feeling particularly applies to the first part, which takes place at basic training. In fact, I feel that what the recruits are exposed to affect myself directly. The whole film deals with partial degradation of human dignity and the self, but the way Kubrick throws this in our faces already from the beginning grabs me every time.
The haircut-sequence is an important part of this. As before a surgical procedure, the skulls are prepared for the psychological interventions that will follow. Human hair, an important part of who you are, is left behind in a heap on the floor. By completely changing and standardizing appearance this helps alienating the recruits both to themselves and to others. They are standardized, given nicknames to conceal their true identity, they are formed into homogenous killing machines.
This film is highly regarded. Stanley Kubrick is also generally recognized as a genius, and as a director extremely focused on details. How is it then, that this film could be full of continuity errors? Or isn't it?
Some of these errors are so illogical that there is reason to assume the opposite - they are placed there on purpose.
I will continue assuming that you have seen the film and know it well enough. Immense spoilers ahead.
Boot Camp ended with a highly dramatic experience. Yet, this experience isn't mentioned with one word after that. Did Gomer Pyle ever exist? Two of the most important scenes involving Pyle are bathed in a special blue light, without any obvious natural explanation. Other night scenes are much darker. In addition, the music changes to a heavy breathing, not unlike when someone is sleeping. We even see Pyle breathing along with the music.
Theories concerns therefore that this may be dream scenes, which further explains the absence of the topic afterwards. In the first round Sgt Hartman is doing in front of the recruits, Pyle is certainly standing to the left of Joker. In the «John Wayne event» he has moved to the right. This doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't there, recruits having switched places might as well be a symbol of the anonymizing process taking place. Nevertheless I find strong symbolism in the fact that Pyle dies just when the training is over, when the recruits have become men and there no longer is room for the child. It is obvious until then that Pyle has been representing the child in all the recruits, he doesn't know left from right, he needs help getting dressed and so on.
Why are so many scenes filmed as to reflect other characters? In the «this is my rifle, this is my gun»-scene, I sincerely doubt that the recruits would have marched with the weapons, respectively, on their right and left shoulder. This is confirmed in the screenplay:
«During our sixth week, Sergeant Gerheim orders us double-time around the squad bay with our penises in our left hands and our weapons in our right hand.»
In this scene, however, it provides perfect symmetry. Joker and Cowboy reflect each other - they are the only ones with glasses. Also, they both wrote for the school newspaper when in high school. And the two of them are, also in perfect symmetry, cleaning out the Head together...
In one of the funniest scenes in the movie Joker meets the mass grave-colonel, and refers to Jungian Shadow Theory. The theory explains that every man carries a reflection of himself, with aggression and xenophobia on one side, charity and cooperation on the other. One interpretation from this is that Pyle equals Animal Mother. Because - Hartman says straight out that Pyle is «born again hard» after he excels in rifle drill and shooting. Maybe he is reborn as Animal Mother, the character we didn't see in basic traing but who shows up in Vietnam. The two have several common features.
The most bizarre sequence comes when the soldiers are exposed to the sniper. Cowboy picks out five men including himself to make the advance. Joker and Rafterman volunteers, making them seven men in total. But only six men advances. As they approach the building they are back to seven, but that's just because they have joined up with Animal Mother who was already in place. When they're finally gathered at the building, we can count eight men. The most absurd moment is that on their way forward they pass an unknown person, he seems to be wearing glasses but without any helmet or battle gear. Is this a member of Kubrick's crew? Or is it a member of the documentary crew, the ones making the movie inside the movie?
And there is more. When the squad arrives at the ruins of the first house approaching the sniper, team leader Cowboy moves to the end of the building to get a best possible view at the other house. He carefully peeks around the corner. It's easy to see that it isn't possible to get a clear view in any other way. However - when Cowboy moves back, there is a huge hole in the wall giving the sniper a clear shot. This can't possibly be a continuity error. For one - Cowboy would not have moved to the corner if it was possible to observe from elsewhere. Second - he, as an experienced soldier, would not have turned his back to the opening.
The hole simply can't be there! Seconds later he is shot through it anyway.
What is Kubrick trying to say here? Are the soldiers in another dimension where anything can happen? Are they already dead and «in a world of shit»? On the other hand, it is of course possible that Kubrick just was a bit sloppy as a director and not particularly careful with details...
It's a perversely fascinating film in the sense that it doesn't answer any questions, offers no hope and (possibly) have little meaning. Like several of Kubrick's films it will still be debated for years to come.