A View From the Past

06 Dec

Each of us have experience shared and separate. When we look at movies, they often explore and perhaps exploit the common experience. I grew up before and during the Viet Nam conflict. It, like many other wars have had innumerable books and movies observing the time and people. Few movies provide authentic drama, rather they’re designed to tell an entertaining story in a manner of viewpoint from the author and director.


My time in recruit training, looking around when I shouldn’t be

Of all the movies I’ve seen about the military and especially the Marines, this one is about as true to the training experience as it gets. When I sit and watch Full Metal Jacket, I laugh at many of the boot camp scenes. They’re a repeat of the monologue from the drill instructors I heard while going through basic training. R. Lee Ermey gave what has to be the most honest performance to date.

The plot device in the early part of the movie, betrays itself as an entertainment piece; it’s the scene where Private Lawrence (Pyle) has possession of ammunition outside of the rifle range. This would never have occurred from my experience. You might find people who become unraveled by the intensity of the training, but the Marines know how to keep track of all ammunition dispensed and retrieved at the shooting range. We had a couple of people who couldn’t cope. One sliced his wrists and the other tried to escape over the fence into the San Diego Airport next to the recruit depot. After these events, we would be gathered and shown how to commit a proper suicide or the folly of trying to escape into a busy airport, especially in a recruits uniform.

marines at obstacle course

Marines climbing ropes in obstacle course

As a movie, Full Metal Jacket can be confusing, crude or a false celebration of manhood to those who haven’t had this experience. Clearly, when I started to hear and become part of the chaos, yelling and indoctrination, I found myself asking, what have I gotten myself into? That passed after the requirements, pace and tempo were understood. What doesn’t come through well in the movie is the reasons why this training is so valuable. Nothing ever can fully prepare normal people for war, but the need is there and the Marines have taken their place along side many other successful groups who engage in war.

The movie itself loses a lot for me in the last two-thirds. This is where a portion of the group of men are followed into Viet Nam and the Tet Offensive. If the idea was to inject randomness and chaos into the story, then Kubrick succeeded. It lacks continuity and loses much of the initial purpose, especially as you watch the fight for who’s in charge when the platoon is attacked by a sniper. It’s that portion of the film which resembles the group chaos in Platoon, from another famous director, Oliver Stone. Stone was an experienced infantryman and decided his vision of Viet Nam should counteract the Green Berets film directed by and starring John Wayne.

When it comes to watching combat taking place, the closest to me is shown in the series called Band of Brothers as well as Saving Private Ryan. There’s no glorification and little hero-worship going on while these movies simulate the battle conditions of their time. As far as internal mental reflection in combat, these films stand out for me; The Enemy Below, Beach Red, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima. I guess the bottom line in making any war movie accurate isn’t necessarily all of the right technical details, lord knows how I cringe watching the Battle of the Bulge, it’s telling a story from the soldier, sailor, marine or airmen perspective. Everyone of them, man or woman, doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t want to be a hero, they want to do their duty and go home. It’s lost in there somewhere in Full Metal Jacket, we hear it talked about, but it’s not told in a way that I can understand from an emotional and realistic portrayal.

learning to use a flamethrower

learning how to use a flamethrower

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Posted by on 06/12/2013 in Action, Choice, Courage, Entertainment, Hollywood, Movies, Plot, Production, Stories, Writing


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