Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Ethics, Personal Identity, Free Will, Philosophy of History

CHARACTERS: Private Joker (Matthew Modine), Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Private Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio), Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard), Private Cowboy (Arliss Howard)

Shining (1980), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Spartacus (1960)

SYNOPSIS: Full Metal Jacket follows a group of aspiring young men as they endure the trials of basic training in their quest to become Marines and, ultimately, soldiers in the Vietnam War. In the first half of the film, Privates Joker and Pyle struggle through the mentally and physically tiring stresses which are intensified by the strict guidance of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. The second half of the film is set in Da Nang, Vietnam near the time of the Tet Offensive. Privates Joker and Rafterman go out into the field to get a firsthand account of the bloodshed and atrocities of war.


1. At the beginning of the film, Private Pyle appears to have a pleasant disposition as evidenced by his inability to quit grinning. After suffering the effects of basic training, he eventually becomes homicidal and suicidal. Is Private Pyle's demise a consequence of his training or poor decisions?

2. After Gunnery Sergeant Hartman finds a jelly doughnut in Private Pyle's footlocker, he tells the platoon concerning Private Pyle's failures, "I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation." Who is responsible for Private Pyle's deficiencies in his training?

3. At the end of basic training, Joker notes in narration, "The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men, men without fear." Are the goals of the Marine Corps as stated by Joker achievable?

4. Concerning Lee Harvey Oswald and mass murderer Charles Whitman, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman states, "Those individuals showed what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do." Do you think Kubrick had a purpose for using these names in such a positive light?

5. In the tragic scene in the bathroom, Private Pyle responds to Joker that, "I am in a world of shit." What do you think Private Pyle's last straw was that put him in such a world?

6. At the beginning of the second part of the film, Rafterman says to Joker, "You know what really pisses me off about these people? We're supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get." Joker replies by saying, "Don't take it too hard, Rafterman. It's just business." By saying "just business", what is Joker implying about a soldier's observations about the war?

7. In the newspaper staff meeting, Joker's superior officer reviews all the proposed articles to make sure all of the stories have the desired effect on its readers. Does the given spin of these articles preserve the truth?

8. In the second half of the film, Joker and Rafterman take a helicopter ride, so they can get some "trigger time." On the ride, the door gunner starts to shoot at unarmed Vietnamese villagers. Soon after, Joker asks, "How can you shoot women and children?" and the door gunner replies, "Easy! Ya just don't lead 'em so much! Ain't war hell?" In a time of war, is it ever morally permissible to kill women and children?

9. When Joker is asked by the colonel about his peace symbol and the words "Born to Kill" on his helmet, he replies, "I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man" or "The Jungian thing." What is Joker's point?

10. While a film crew is taking a video of the platoon, Crazy Earl says, "I'll be General Custer", and then Rafterman asks, "Well, who'll be the Indians?" Animal Mother states, "Hey, we'll let the Gooks play the Indians." Is there any parallels between the Vietnam War and the Battle of Little Bighorn?

11. In the sniper scene at the end of the film, the platoon argues as to whether they should try and save Private Eightball. What would a person say if they had a utilitarian ethical stance as opposed to a deontological ethical stance?

12. When Joker and Rafterman first meet Cowboy's platoon, Joker and Animal Mother have a confrontation. Afterwards, Private Eightball tells Joker, "Now you may not believe it, but under fire Animal Mother is one of the finest human beings in the world. All he needs is someone to throw hand grenades at him the rest of his life." Animal Mother appears to be the ideal soldier. When the first part of this film is taken into consideration, do you believe Animal Mother is a necessary product of being well trained?

13. Do you think Animal Mother's training has any affect on his moral responsibility as an ideal soldier?

14. At the end of the movie, Joker kills the child sniper. Now, one could see how the door gunner might have tried to justify killing women and children. If women and children are the enemy, how should a soldier proceed amidst the struggle to "win" the war?


Being a soldier myself, I love Full Metal Jacket. The basic training scene alone could have given the movie a 5 star rating in my book. It was not only hilarious but also very true to life. Every time I watch it brings back fond memories of my days at basic training. Not to say that I was a Private Pyle but they treat everyone with that same tender loving care. As the film shows they treat everyone with the upmost respect and decency. LOL. No it really, really sucks and they talk to you like crap but Drill Sergeants say some of the funniest stuff sometimes and the movie is a good representation of that. It also shows how hard and stressful basic training is for the soldiers that go through it. It shows just how fragile some people’s minds can be in such stressful situations as well. In my company we had two guys that had to be put on suicide watch 24 hours a day. One morning at about 2 a.m. I woke up to sirens, a guy in the company down the street had blown his own head off in the bathroom with his M16. It makes you realize just how strong the notion of patriotism is. It’s a word that can put a nation to collectively agree to go to war or make someone put themselves in a situation that they know they can’t handle. That’s what I took away from this movie. It made me reevaluate why I joined. Did I join for the true sense of contributing to something greater than myself or was I duped by a clever ploy designed to make me pickup arms against my fellow man? But I know the answer to that regardless of the intent of my leaders. — J.R.

Full Metal Jacket is one of those movies that you cannot forget. It details the lives of several Marine Corps. Infantrymen. The most recognizable is that of “Private Pile”. Private Pile is not your standard Marine Corp. soldier, as he is on the overweight side and a bit clumsy. Pile must also survive the basic training of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, who gives him utter hell as he progresses through training. There are tons of YouTube videos that can give one an idea of the torture Pile is put through during training. The training ends up getting to Pile as he later kills Hartman and later kills himself in an apparent suicide. Later , in the movie we see a platoon of soldiers face real combat and come face to face with a sniper. If we’ve learned anything from war movies, we know that a sniper is bad news. All in all I enjoyed this movies, especially the parts where Pile is being drilled by Hartman. This movie has many iconic and classic quotes that have made it a classic. As far as philosophical content , there are some morality questions that may be raised; especially those about how soldiers are trained and how another individual can decide whether an individual lives or dies. However, those seem to be some of the realities of war. — J.M.

Full Metal Jacket: Let me start by saying that R. Lee Ermey is the real gem of this film. He set the bar for how you should swallow this film, one gasp and one laugh at a time. This film is darkly humorous, uncompromisingly brutal, and subversive in every way, Full Metal Jacket is easily one of the best war movies without being remotely similar to your standard issue war flick. Told in two acts, the film begins with the dehumanization that occurs during basic training. American boys are pummeled and overworked by the mechanism that is the Marine Corps until they are nothing more than bald-headed persons of mass destruction in uniforms, or in the case of one Private Pile suicidal basket cases. Kubrick tells this section with a cold distance and an emphasis on the limits of bunks, soldiers and obstacles. Contrasting the limits is the hellish chaos of Vietnam, where Marines can try to march in line, but the unpredictable can, and will, throw them off. The film as a whole is distinguished by how intimately it depicts the psychological impact on the Marines, whose cracking faces are often quietly observed in close-ups. Joker and his boys go to war mimicking John Wayne movies and expecting to be heroes in the same sort of Western showdowns. What they get instead are abusive sergeants, hookers with tuberculosis, people who don’t want to be saved, and a shootout so traumatizing that, by the end of it, they revert back to infancy for security, chanting the Mickey Mouse song just to get by. And what the viewer gets is entertainment and two hours of memorable quotes. “How tall are you!?” — B.C.

As someone who doesn’t particularly like war movies, Full Metal Jacket was actually rather interesting. It provided an uncensored look into the life of a soldier during the Vietnam conflict. Some of the scenes were absolutely appalling, particularly during the first half of the movie when the soldiers were in basic training. These men were ridiculed, worked to death, and eventually completely broken down and rebuilt as the perfect soldier. This film tackles what can happen when the system backfires, leading us to question whether this type of military training is ethical. This program seriously messed up Private Gomer Pyle to the point that he was delusional, homicidal, and suicidal. The scene where Pyle is talking to his gun demonstrates just how dehumanizing the experience of basic training can be to some people. Another wartime problem presented in this movie was the issue of truthful reporting. Joker and his group of fellow reporters are instructed to only write articles that suggest that America is winning the war, even if it means they have to make up a few details. Again, this raises a question of the place of ethics in wartime. While Joker realizes that this less than truthful reporting isn’t quite right, he goes along with it because the happy stories would supposedly keep the troops in high spirits. — D.O.

Full Metal Jacket: This movie shows how much people can be pushed to certain limits. The movie starts out showing each of the recruits and their sergeant. The sergeant in command has no problem with publically degrading each individual and giving certain men ridiculing names based on their actions or demeanors. This movie also shows the backing force of a platoon when they try to have each others back. Gomer Pyle is the one character of the squad who is always messing up and is made fun of for it. There are very saddening scenes where the other men are beating up on him in order to “teach him a lesson” so he won’t mess up again. After a while, Pyle finally starts to get his act together when he is taught how to properly use a rifle. He is often complimented, but is still somewhat degraded for different things. This seems like it is saying that he’s still going to be worthless no matter what he ends up trying to be good at. He takes so much pride in his weapon that it starts to worry everyone. When he gets confronted, not even his fellow recruit can talk him out of it, and Pyle feels like not only does he have to successfully kill his sergeant, but has to rid the world of himself as well. — D.H.

Not exactly Kubrick’s best work, Full Metal Jacket tells the tale of a group of Marine recruits going through boot camp before being deployed to Vietnam. The first act is largely a continual confrontation between the drill sergeant (Lee Emery) and a fat recruit who gets nicknamed ‘Gomer Pyle’. The first act is the best. Kubrick shows the intentional and brutal dehumanization of the recruits at the hands of Emery … slowing driving Pyle insane who kills himself just after finishing boot camp. The hero, nicknamed Joker, makes it through boot camp and finds himself in Vietnam as an army journalist on the eve of the Tet offensive. The second act, which was really a let down compared to the first, featured soldiers reckoning their John Wayne bravado attitude towards the war with the utter horror of its reality. The end scene drags on a bit too long for my tastes and seems a little contrived for a war movie, not quite standing up to the harsh realities of war as portrayed in, say, Apocalypse Now or Platoon. Through out it all though, Kubrick is subversive, funny, and offensive to authority, which fits in well with his style. Full Metal Jacket is not his best work, but don’t let that keep you away. It’s only less than amazing by Kubrick standards, which are quite high. — J.B.

Full Metal Jacket: The greatest Vietnam movie made; even though half of the movie takes place in the United States. The reason this movie is such a great film; is because Kubrick takes the time, one third of the movie, to show the training and indoctrination Marines are subjected to during basic training. When Pyle finally kills himself, the audience is left to wonder if it was not better for Pyle to die in the United States versus risking his comrades’ lives while on the battlefield. Kubrick balances the rigorous requirements of duty with the wanton violence embedded within military life. When Joker deploys to Vietnam, the audience has a vested interest in making sure he survives; this is due to Kubrick’s ability to draw the viewer into the film and make them connect to the character. The philosophical questions raised throughout the movie vary between ethical questions on morality and whether a soldier has ANY free will. At one point Joker is asked by a superior officer about his peace symbol and the words “Born to Kill” on his helmet. Joker responses with “it’s the Jungian thing, the duality of man”. Joker is speaking of the ability of the soldier to be two men, a killer and a thinker; that is something the Marines do not want, thinkers. I think Kubrick again draws you in by showing you the true nature of war and the character of the me n required to go fight and die; they are humans each and every one, just like us all.

The movie “Full Metal Jacket” is an interesting movie concerning the philosophies of war. The film raises many philosophical questions dealing with different aspects of the movie, which can be broken down into two parts. The first part of the movie deals with a group of new recruits in the United States Marine Corps that had just arrived at Parris Island for recruit training. Some of the questions rose during this part deals primarily with the Pyle who appears to be weak, socially awkward, dimwitted, overweight, out of shape, and afraid of heights. These questions start of from; after suffering the effects of basic training, he eventually becomes homicidal and suicidal. Is Private Pyle's demise a consequence of his training or poor decisions? The answer to this seems obviously yes, even after somewhat successfully finish basic training after some tutoring. Another question asks after Gunnery Sergeant Hartman finds a jelly doughnut in Private Pyle's footlocker, he tells the platoon concerning Private Pyle's failures, "I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation." Who is responsible for Private Pyle's deficiencies in his training? This answer is not so obvious, but the rest of the Platoon should have realized the kind of man Pyle was and to have made sure he stayed out of trouble. However, the ultimate responsibility rests with Pyle. The next part of the movie deals with the War and asks questions such as what would a person say if they had a utilitarian ethical stance as opposed to a deontological ethical stance? — A.V. Author: James DeFreece

Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page