Speaking about “Fear and Desire” (1953) in 1956, Kubrick said: “For all its horror, war is pure drama, probably because it is one of the few remaining situations where men stand up for and speak for what they believe to be their principles.” “Paths of Glory” (1957) questioned principles as ambitions that lure men to sacrifice their fellow men. The political antics of the Cold War made satire the proper mode of address for “Dr. Strangelove.”
In 1987 the director presented audiences with another war in a different society: the Vietnam War. In “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), his vision of war’s madness is exquisitely stated as a film cut in two. In its first half, a gunnery sergant, played by marine veteran Lee Ermey, aims a relentless barrage of insults and humiliations both at us, the viewers, and at a group of young recruits, as we all prepare for the second half, which takes place in the chaotic, surreal zones of battle. Kubrick’s soldiers—like those in “Paths of Glory”—are victims but perpetrators too. “Born to kill” is written on the helmet of Private Joker while a peace symbol is pinned to his vest: there are no principles to stand up for here.
“Full Metal Jacket” is based on the novel “The Short-Timers” (1979) by former marine and war correspondent Gustav Hasford. Kubrick and writer Michael Herr adapted the screenplay.