DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd :
There are only a handful of truly iconic war films and this most definitely belongs among them. It does not merely depict elements of war in a realistic way, it also intelligently critiques and satirizes our species' instinctive tendencies to wage war and the inescapable need for a communal spirit while cyclically purveying an 'us vs them' mentality.
In the first part, perhaps most famous for the foul mouthed genius of Lee Ermy, Kubrick shows us how the cogs are created in the machine that was the Vietnam war. By dehumanizing new recruits, Kubrick shows us the strengths and weaknesses of our race. When pushed, we can achieve anything we want. When thrust together we take care of our own and have each other's back. These two elements are essential in the marine corps and Kubrick opts for depicting this reshaping in his usual distant and cold style, which makes the humour wry and confrontational, giving it a sense of satire we all know to be based on reality.
The flipside of these core values are the loss of self and the survival instinct turning on the weak. These two elements are combined astoundingly in the character of Gomer Pyle (an excellent D'Onofrio), showing in the most unsettling way what happens when both group and individual are brought to the brink and are ever so slightly pushed over the edge. Again, Kubrick underplaying it and keeping it extremely sober with no room for sentimentality makes it hit home all the harder.
The second part shows the war itself, but not in a way that is done often. It focusses more on our protagonist, Joker, and through his 'everyman' eyes we see how the aforementioned cogs operate and how their camaraderie is a basic element for survival. It also raises an interesting question. Are these soldiers numbed by the atrocities of war, or were they out in that state of mind in their training. This self regulating cycle felt like a deeply ironic statement Kubrick was trying to make. He adds to that by showing the media involvement of this particular war as well. One of the most impressive, wonderfully satirical shots involves a one take with a camera crew that whizzes past a line of soldiers. With tanks blazing in the background the soldiers in the foreground joke and comment in an almost artificial, imprinted manner.
Joker's character fulfills an important role. He seems to be the most human character who, despite everything, stays somewhat true to himself and slowly starts to take on the guise of a fully rounded human being. He is clearly searching, brilliantly captured in the conflicting symbols he carries with him that have become part of this film's iconography. What Kubrick does brilliantly is to allow Joker to become a fully rounded character by allowing him his first kill. By making it a mercy kill, he captures that elusive duality of man perfectly. And Joker walks away telling us he is finally alive, a disturbing yet intriguing final statement.
Full Metal Jacket is a film that is easy to take on at face value, there is enough to enjoy and watch it as a good war movie. But there is so much more to it, guaranteeing I'll be visiting it again and again.