Saturday At The Movies: Steampunk Granny Talks Full Metal Jacket and Marines


I had watched the 1987 war film, Full Metal Jacket, a few years ago with my husband. The title refers to the bullet used by the infantry riflemen. At the time, I considered the film which was directed and produced by the amazing Stanley Kubrick and starred Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Arliss Howard and R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, too brutal to enjoy.

Jim with Dad & Grandpop
Jim with Dad & Grandpop

Strange isn’t it… that I can watch all kinds of horror and gore in zombie movies, but when a movie centers around our military boys and girls getting killed or maimed, I cover my eyes; afraid to watch. On December 15th, 2013 at 3 PM my grandson Jimmy, left for Parris Island to become a marine. So… I’m guessing you’re wondering what I think of Full Metal Jacket, now. Find out after the jump.


The story takes place in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Young men, my grandson’s age, arrive at Parris Island for basic training before they are sent off to fight in a very unpopular war. The draft was in place then and you didn’t have a choice; you had to do the time in one of the branches of the service. I’m not sure if the requirements during the Vietnam War were as strict as they are now, but judging by the size and intellect of Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), maybe not as stringent as long as the war quota was filled. The recruits are young, confused and definitely not battle ready. The tale is narrated by Private James T. Davis (Matthew Modine) who was later nicknamed, Joker by a very nasty Drill Sergeant.

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman
R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman

The Drill Sergeant

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) is a control freak, brutal, mean and scarier than a truck load of zombies sizing you up for lunch. What is interesting is that R. Lee Ermey was a real drill sergeant during the Vietnam War, his character based on true life experience. I did not like this character one bit the first time I watched this film, especially the way he belittled the recruits under him, but most of his anger was directed at Lawrence who had arrived as a cuddly, innocent, and clumsy teddy bear. He was slow witted and out of shape and that just irked the hell out of the drill sergeant, who nicknamed Lawrence, “Gomer Pyle.” Vincent D’Onofrio had to add seventy pounds to his weight for the film.

D'Onofrio & Matthew Bodine
Vincent D’Onofrio and Matthew Modine

Joker takes Pyle under his wing and with his gentle instructions, Pyle begins to transform and improve. Everything is going great until a jelly doughnut is found in Pyle’s foot locker. Hartman begins to punish the platoon for every mistake that Pyle makes, until the men are fed up and beat him with bars of soap wrapped in towels. Ouch! Something snaps inside our little teddy bear and his mental status deteriorates even though he’s a wiz with his M-14 rifle; a real marksman.

After Graduation and before the recruits receive their assignments, Joker, who has been concerned with the strange behavior of Pyle, finds his friend in the latrine loading his rife with live ammunition. When Hartman confronts Pyle and orders him to stand down, Pyle shoots Hartman and then commits suicide. I cried at this part.

Animal Mother & Joker
Animal Mother and Joker

War, Huh, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing! Sung by Edwin Starr

Many of the songs featured in the movie, still haunt me, and every time I hear them played on the radio, I think of Vietnam. I still don’t know why we were there. Does anyone? But our soldiers from that war never received the respect due them. Joker, whose helmet says ‘Born to kill’ and wears a peace sign medal on his lapel, is now a Sergeant and a war correspondent with the Stars and Stripes in Vietnam. He meets up with his boot camp friend, Cowboy (Arliss Howard). Cowboy, Joker, Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard), Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Eightball (Dorian Harewood) are on patrol searching for a sniper. The squad leader, the squad medic, Cowboy and Eightball are killed, but the sniper is found and killed; a young teenage girl. The Marines march back to camp singing the Mickey Mouse song.

Pyle eating donut


Things are different now. The Draft, long gone, young men today are ready and willing to join the few and the proud. The Marine Corp want men who are physically fit and have a working brain. My grandson is in excellent physical shape from years of mixed martial arts and Muay Thai training. He’s very smart; takes after his granny. I was proud of him when he announced his joining the marines, but scared that he would have a drill sergeant like Hartman. Then I watched the movie after he left. This time, I watched the film with the eyes of a grandmother. My grandson was at the very same Parris Island as Joker, Cowboy, Snowball and Pyle. What kind of drill sergeant would Jimmy need to become a Marine and a survivor?

Here is the Drill Instructor’s motto: These recruits are entrusted to my care. I will train them to the best of my ability. I will develop them into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Marines, thoroughly indoctrinated in love of Corps and country. I will demand of them, and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality and professional skill.”

Marine Insignia
Marine Insignia

If this means that the Drill Instructor will help Jimmy achieve honor, courage, commitment and street smarts to survive in battle… then… maybe… someone like Hartman would do just fine and, for all our men and women in the Marine Corp, stay safe and, “Oorah!”

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