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Full Metal Jacket
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 Stanley Kubrick-directed movie following a Marine's journey into darkness during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The movie is unsparing in its portrayal of wartime violence -- soldiers get into fire fights, are shot by snipers, and are shown dying slowly on the battlefield. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the movie, a Marine recruit shown constantly making mistakes during boot camp and arousing the intense fury of his drill sergeant becomes mentally and emotionally unstable, sitting on a toilet, putting a rifle into his mouth and pulling the trigger -- head shown exploding into a splatter of blood from the bullet. Right before this, he shoots and kills his drill sergeant. Pretty much every expletive in the English language is used, including frequent use of "f--k," as well as racial slurs directed at African Americans, Jews, and Italians, as well as quips by the drill sergeant in which he calls his recruits gay. In two scenes, Vietnamese prostitutes proposition American servicemen and haggle over prices for sex acts.
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What's the story?
The opening sequence of FULL METAL JACKET is a long series of scenes of Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island. It shows both the ways soldiers bond together and how they're driven apart by the brutal treatment they receive. Lee Emery is the drill sergeant to end all drill sergeants, and the soldiers under his command, who are soon known only by their nicknames -- Joker (Matthew Modine), Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio), Cowboy (Arliss Howard) -- each react differently to the intense and often cruel training regime. Once in Vietnam, they are thrown into an unpopular war that they don't really understand, fighting an enemy who refuses to play by the rules.
Is it any good?
Although this is a film about the Vietnam War, it could just as easily be about current events. The ugly realities of war, and what soldiers have to go through before they even get there, are a timeless theme, and Full Metal Jacket looks at the whole picture.
There isn't a lot of plot -- the soldiers go from training to war and they fight for their lives -- but the relationships among the men and the extremity of the situation they're in are riveting. The film captures both the excitement and the tedium of war, but ultimately loses something by not having a stronger storyline and a stronger leading man. Modine is a good actor, but he is something of a cipher here. We don't know enough about him to care deeply for him, but he's the moral center of the film. It's a well-made film that is powerful and still relevant, but it somehow doesn't quite deliver what it seems it could. Also, it's way too violent for kids, so share this one with older teens only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies centered on the Vietnam War. How is this one similar to and different from other Vietnam War movies?
How was profanity used to heighten the realities of soldiers going through boot camp and the rigors of warfare? What would have been lost in the movie without the profanity?
Were the graphic depictions of violence necessary for the movie, or could the story have been told just as effectively without the graphic violence? How did the graphic violence fit in with the overall themes of the movie?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.