Twitter Plot Summary: The Vietnam War, as perceived through the eyes of Stanley Kubrick.
Working on a Stanley Kubrick film, for the majority of actors anyway, was perhaps much like the opening 40 minutes of Full Metal Jacket, an unrelenting boot camp maintained by an exacting and precise taskmaster. R Lee Ermey, no stranger to the world of boot camp discipline, is Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a man inclined to hurl all levels of abuse at you in a bid to turn you into a perfect killing machine. In some cases this level of extreme discipline can work wonders for churning out obedient little soldiers, although it’s perhaps best avoided if you’re trying to train up someone like Vincent D’Onofrio.
Once out into the real world of war, things don’t get any better. This is a world in which there are no good guys or bad guys, just people trying to kill one another in the name of their cause. Blood is spilled, people die, and it often leaves you asking the question: why? There’s no solid reasons given for the war taking place, no real explanation for why these men are throwing their lives away.
Matthew Modine is Joker, a man who represents the duality of human nature, a man who craves peace yet finds himself in a position of aggression, firing weapons in anger at an enemy who doesn’t play by the supposed rules of war. He’s a dissenting voice against the need for war, yet by necessity finds himself having to kill or be killed. There’s an interesting sideline in the effects of war journalism in that Joker is recruited as a war correspondent, however his objectivity could be called into question given that he is reporting from within, and also by that point he’s lacked combat experience.
Vincent D’Onofrio is a revelation as Gomer Pyle, a private who doesn’t take well to Hartman’s constant barrage of putdowns and abuse, eventually reaching snapping point with surprising consequences. He may not be in the film for the entire running time, but it’s his sequences in boot camp, and Ermey’s role alongside, that live longest in the memory.
Kubrick’s usual style and attention to detail can be felt in every frame, either in his choice of composition for each frame of the film, or the decision to juxtapose death and destruction with pop songs. It’s a typically precise effort from Kubrick, every element of the film telling its own story whilst contributing to the overall narrative, the psychological aspects of warfare covered amongst many other thematic points of interest. In some instances he could be said to have an almost too clinical perspective on events, but his visual style is something that contributes a lot to the narrative rather than takes away from it.
By the finale the duality represented by Joker is fully explored and the true futility of war is covered. But then it’s not as blatant an anti-war film as you might expect, rather it’s as much a satire of the concept of war and the explicit nature of conflict than it is a diatribe about how war doesn’t solve problems. I wouldn’t call it the greatest war film ever made, but it does raise some very interesting questions.