Full Medal Jacket And The Two Golden Bows: An Unconventional, Tactical Analysis, Punching Through the Kevlar of Stanley Kubrick’s Film Full Metal Jacket. By RH Vatcher.
Carl Jung said: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”
Stanley built universes inside his films with such incredible subtlety and finesse. His pictures resist, then defy explanation time after time and again. Sontag described it as an “abracadabrant,“ a kind of magic caught in a black cauldron of swirling metallic silver set into film acetate. Disney calls theirs Imagineering. Here you will find is a merging of science, psychology, storytelling and mathemagic delivered under cover of darkness by an A6 Intruder, lighting up evening as bright as napalm.
Kubrick’s pictures cannot be figured by only a viewing. Sure it is the cooked to perfection photography, absolutely it’s the diet of Jiffy Pop dialogue, tell me more about that sneaky jelly donut and where it came from! As art these pictures must be studied, read with great literal sense and given adequate time to process, develop and fix into form, true to its generation, then left to dry. Then have another look, with a loupe.
With this enriched catalogue of pictures you are guaranteed character arcs that ride along a sandy timeline that fade into fine graticules, laconic elliptical rejoinders contained within stories that may twist the knobs and widgets of your imagination, only to leave you questioning, “Everything,” all over again. This overall abundant formula for an abracadabrant of sight and sound takes advantage of even the better limitations of ourselves with sheer intention, meaning, and reaches some of the farthest bounds of storytelling itself.
Uno, Dos: One, Two, Tres, Quattro
Some have called Full Metal Jacket an unsentimental testimony to the Vietnam War while others have graced it with accolades ranging from the best account to most harrowing representation of the conflict. Others say masterpiece.
Yes. This is Stanley’s genius.
How does one explain a Kubrick picture or is it just easier to not explain it at all? As pictures carrying an almost infinitesimal quality with multiple levels to them, explanation of these art pieces are analogous to declaring a measurement of the known universe as it expands.
Some people demand a five-line capsule summary. Something you’d read in a magazine. They want you to say, ‘This is the story of the duality of man and the duplicity of governments.’ I hear people try to do it — give the five-line summary — but if a film has any substance or subtlety, whatever you say is never complete, it’s usually wrong, and it’s necessarily simplistic: truth is too multifaceted to be contained in a five-line summary…” –Stanley Kubrick (Rolling Stone, 1987)
American losses during the Vietnam War were subject to statistical manipulation on a large scale basis. For instance, dying soldiers put aboard medical evacuation helicopters were often counted as only wounded in unit after-action tables. The film makes mention of the softening of war phrases such as “sweep and clear” for “search and destroy” which in a way, parallels, patterns that same statistical wartime rhetoric of censorship.
Another way of defining manipulation of soldier statistics during the conflict could easily be supplanted using the idea of “Tanking” in international sports, which describes a team that purposefully loses matches and good players to fill a draft agenda.
With Full Metal Jacket there is an overall theme centered around an idea of “engagement.” Engagement in conflict, engagement on personal levels in this particular theater of warfare, and the “the statistical measurement of those engagements.” In addition, the film’s two clashing characters would become central to the trajectory of the film’s lofting, lobbing story that fall like mortar at its terminus. And for the moment what is the objective finally of the engagement with which these men are entrenched?
A third venture, perhaps in one way, into an even more orthodox way of filmmaking, Kubrick would go on to inject abstract mathematical problems into Full Metal Jacket by fusing, meanwhile, important storytelling and improvised, explosive dialogue together in parallel with a numerical theme. This appears to be based exactly on Model Theory where, as a mathematical concept, it removes any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected, and generalizing it so that it has wider applications or matching among other abstract descriptions of equivalent phenomena.
For instance the scene where Joker is scolded for not knowing his 6th general order, each number mentioned, when added together, totals to the number 57.
The same is for the Charles Whitman and Oswald scene in Full Metal Jacket when the recruits are seated on the bleachers, however it is a subtraction problem which results in 57.
The number 57 appears yet again in front of Leonard while firing at the range simply when numerals 7 through 12 on the range’s signage are summed.
57 is also hidden in the serial numbers on the rear of the M14 Cadillac tanks. These include coinciding obstacles of multiplication and addition problems.
Further instances of the number 57 occur such as the jogging in formation while calling out cadence scene, which lasts for 57 seconds.
These modern day fairy tale concepts, as numerical devices, were only ascertained after discovery of a first group of major anecdata anomaly and are as follows:
Just as found in the film, all wounded and dead accounted for sum to the number 57. At the crest of the film the civilians lined and counted in the lime pit is given at exactly twenty Vietnamese bodies. The American count of soldiers finishes finally at 19 and the Vietnamese losses per the film’s count is 18, with the latter two at the time being the known average ages of soldiers on both sides of the war. Each group when counted together 18, 19 and 20 equal to the number 57.
As the idea of 57 alludes to the exactly 57,000 Vietnamese civilians killed by democide by their own south Vietnamese government while the U.S. gazed on, one of the most brutal scenes in as far as a statement to the war was concerned may just have to be Tom Colceri’s as steward to what appears to be just another casual taxi ride in the belly of a Choctaw helicopter.
As doorgunner, Colceri burst out hundreds of rounds, more than 300 of them from his bolted down M60 before bragging about himself as a potential story subject with his claimed 157 confirmed kills, including 50 water buffalo. The doorgunner’s honesty thus widens into another arena, an idea that the amount lost to democide may be as high as twice as much as originally thought by statistics and not by action in war as most figures were attributed to. This, including friendly fire. Colceri’s scene happens to be the only segment that terminates with a different sum, double exactly, as compared with the other implanted mathematical hurdles.
“I’VE GOT YOUR NAME! I’VE GOT YOUR ASS! YOU WILL NOT LAUGH! YOU WILL NOT CRY! YOU WILL LEARN BY THE NUMBERS! I WILL TEACH YOU!”
However, the number 57 could just as simply allude to a poke at the post war commercialization of a north and south Vietnam as American corporate development squeezes out businesses, they would most surely require plenty of condiments, and barrels of ketchup for the tabletops.
Full Metal Jacket appears to be specifically aiming toward additional options in a target rich environment, a relationship with George A. Miller’s 1956 paper The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information otherwise known as “Miller’s Law.” The well known paper assesses that most persons can process about seven objects at once plus or minus two. It also explains the reason for having a maximum of seven digits in a phone number however there is nothing magical about the number beyond that regard. Furthermore, the paper details memory and the processing of memories as packets fired off in numbers, bursts of four to seven at a time, however further research argued that memory was delivered in small to large packets, a chunking process from four to seven and upwards of 10, 11 to the high teens to 22, suggesting perhaps, even more.
Another relationship involves the idea of engagement during birth, as in engagement of a baby’s head beyond the pelvic brim yet in this case, above the rim of a soldier’s helmet. This measurement of engagement named Cephalic presentation is sometimes referred to as baby drop, or the 2/5 method of measurement.
The LUSTHOG SQUAD: Hotel 2/5
The detail goes even further into Rabbit’s hole in that the engagement that the Lusthog squad are involved specifically in, with Joker intercepting them, the men all have a pattern, a sense in the film in that they all will die as they appeared to have lived their lives, as depicted in the story.
To another extent how are the men engaged and by what measure or degree have they fallen from grace is Full Metal Jacket’s target referral, its partner objective, all the while questioning the squad’s attention to detail, and without a doubt, the audience’s as well.
For instance, the simplest explanation might be that Cowboy is appropriately shot through a hole similarly in size and shape to his home state of Texas by an enemy defending their own country with weapons of their choice, just below a sign that ironically reads My Toan, an Asian play on the phrase “my town.” Cowboy is the sixth of his squad to perish that day and the count becomes clear just above his head in the standing wreckage and twisted rebar as he dies from a simple to fix sucking chest wound which none of his buddies, although trained to perform, could do for him now.
The pink rabbit kewpie prize Crazy Earl claims triggers an IED (Improvised Explosive Dialogue) for treating the war as one would in a carnival red star shooting gallery that’s just arrived in town. This leads Doc J., the navy corpsman to immediately require mouth to mouth on Earl for some reason when he was most likely hit in his posterior region.
Eightball who cannot seem to get ahead at least for once is prohibited from going first when it mattered to him yet now had to step up to take lead, and to add velocity to those points, is appropriately shot in his legs and foot, stopping him immediately in his tracks. Doc J. can’t help but run to assist and dies trying, gasping to give and take his final breaths.
Touchdown can be seen dancing a tiny end zone jig behind the M14 Cadillac tank after being hit by shrapnel and maintains a death grip on a heavenly, golden football in his final photograph.
Handjob, who we’ll just say only wanted to get in touch with himself and died as such, keeling over while straight and a flutter just before Animal Mother smothers the building with a thick, wide, gurgling spray of crafty bullet spread.
It is certainly much easier to think of Pyle as a true simpleton, one of 38,000 non-standard men who just didn’t belong in basic training due to McNamara’s 100k program, initiated in 1966.
Yet Leonard “Pyle” Lawrence’s situation speaks somewhat differently. He nearly makes a professional opera of the “Rifleman’s Creed” and at least champions the nightly reading for all to hear, yet he cannot tie his boots or button his shirt to save his life. His colleagues would grow tired of the extra work they were putting in because of Leonard’s random fubar and would slowly turn against him not only here in recruit training but also in the field where Leonard only knew that he wanted to stay alive and probably wouldn’t. Pyle was now, already, out of buddies.
However for Leonard and his situation, his psychotic break did occur and came during the drill instructor’s grandstand dialogue learning that he could achieve what Whitman and Oswald had and accomplishing all this before leaving Hartman’s island. He is commixing ideas and taking direction from those two newly combined meanings, pointing to chaotic horror. Leonard, now talking with his rifle has become quite taken by this, his first gal, affectionately named, Charlene and really isn’t too fond of the idea of parting with her. His understanding of orders and ideas is now warped together giving license to what he is about to do.
Lawrence was given more than enough accolades in the field yet when it came to it Joker was awarded the expert marksman medal, Leonard however was not. This is evident while the men are graduating during pass and review. Leonard’s chances of survival in Vietnam were now reduced by almost half as a rifleman in the Marine Corp. Private Lawrence may have had a chance to live and a reason for respect.
Leonard’s character, an amalgam of capable and those incapable that were drafted into that period’s conflict, snaps psychotically as both personalities, combined now, ride as one. Leonard can follow very direct orders well however the Pyle in him cannot un-mix combined ideas, understanding two ideas as one in the sentences the way that he specifically hears them. Appropriately Private Leonard Lawrence martyrs himself in the local bathroom of the gridiron, similarly as with his namesake in AD 258.
The Bow is Tied
Animal Mother, who is a one sided argument of the same coin as Joker, is well aware of the goings on in the war and what should be done but bears and grins with the squad and charges forward, for himself and his buddies. Animal Mother is coming from a completely different place as opposed to Joker yet on the exact same trajectories.
Joker is transitioning to a place where he just doesn’t care, where he is ok with conscience becoming numb and normalizing killing finally for himself and having less and less empathy, for anything, any longer. Mother however is coming from a place where he is backing down more and more coming from out of that same place, leading toward just a little more humanity, inch by inch, a place where Joker is disastrously egressing from. His character would divert completely from helping someone such as Leonard and would now become well beyond him. Joker is dangerously processing into what some would consider as an outcast, a self seeking rascal on the order of the military’s simple A1 classification mentioned in the film several times. Mother however is backing away, making it a mutual exchange of roles as these two characters pass in time.
Joker, Mother, Rafterman and the remaining men of the group are missing one thing however, a critical decision when they finally tackle the sniper, sacking her from behind. This sniper is breathing and was up until a minute ago, kicking and swimming across the concrete as an Olympian would had they lost some use of their legs due to a severe cramping during a match.
Now asking to be killed by knife and quickly, then just flat out asking to be killed somehow, anyhow, just kill her, hurry and Joker obliges the young woman sniper. What the men have just done is remove any chance of knowing where the enemy might be from interrogating her. Let this be major mistake one in a long laundry list of this “mistake squad.” However, what Joker knows is that his whole bragging rights could easily be ruined by the sniper woman because she is the only one who knows that Joker’s weapon has not misfired yet a round was never cycled into the barrels chamber after reloading his M-16 rifle the last time. And under interrogation this revelation may surface thwarting Joker’s story and the right to brag, and with a salvo of embarrassment being fired from all directions at him. This makes what Joker has done by Mickey Mouse standards, murder, and less a sympathetic killing.
Joker and Mother have one significant difference in that along with his Mickey Mouse theme that he wears as admiral’s shoulder boards and on the face of his pseudo Rolex watch throughout the picture is that Joker overall treads through Vietnam as an angel of death. Anyone who even idly considers themselves the future prospect of any Stars and Stripes article are done for as the only survivors are those who outright reject this notion of notoriety especially of note, Mother and those following closely behind him.
Finally, while turning these dual character arcs, rotating them side by side, a kind of chapel appears, a familiar golden cathedral motif of two soldiers, standing, facing always at attention, sometimes 24 hours, exchanging salt…and at odds with themselves, not forgetting the Heinz fifty-seven for that story of a war of French fries.
“An affair with abstraction is compromised only by a commitment to subjectivity”
Full Medal Jacket And The Two Golden Bows: An Unconventional, Tactical Analysis, Punching Through the Kevlar of Stanley Kubrick’s Film Full Metal Jacket. By RH Vatcher.
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