Within every man resides good and evil; which quality manifests itself is determined by how one is raised and views the world. Stanley Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket takes the concept of good or evil in man and shows how war, the marines, and government blur soldiers' ideas of right or wrong. By injection of propaganda from these sources a misidentity is created within the solider. Once this misidentity has taken place it is the soldiers' job to figure out what he is: a killing machine as he has been trained, or a bringer of peace to a war torn nation.
A soldiers' identity is stripped of him the second he enters boot camp. It first begins with the shaving of the head which likens boot camp to brain surgery, then continues with the identical uniforms which strip them of their visual identities, and completed by the mental degradations of boot camp, delivered by Sergeant Hartmen. Sergeant Hartmen uses many different psychological attacks ranging from repeated chants in training to insulting their masculinity (constantly calling them sweethearts or ladies). For example, “I love working for Uncle Sam, it lets me know just who I am,” is contradictory in and of itself because these recruits know nothing of who they are, only that they are cold killers (as told to be by Sergeant Hartmen). These types of psychological attacks continue throughout basic training and even have religious ties in them. The most shocking is Sergeant Hartmen's line to the men about god, “We keep god happy by giving him fresh souls.” He yells this to the recruits as they are singing happy birthday to Jesus on christmas. This is a ploy at trying to make killing rational to those who feel it to be immoral by their own ethics. Yet again, his speech is a contradiction because in the Ten Commandments it says, “Thou shall not kill.” Sergeant Hartmen is trying to reason it is alright because god enjoys fresh souls. While from a christian viewpoint, both sides of fighters should be going to hell. The hypocrisy in this is blatant and makes for a brilliant piece of dramatic irony. All of these techniques come back to the centralized theme of erasing any identity the soldier has left of himself making sure he has no self judgement. We are shown however, that these mindsets do not always take hold as planned.
In Full Metal Jacket we are shown three sides of brainwashing that takes place. We see how it can be overcome as in the case of Private Joker, keeping the good that is instilled within him. We also see how it can be accepted, as in the case of the rest of the platoon, letting evil manifest itself and be mistaken for what is acceptable. And thirdly we see the whole process become completely overwhelming and taken to extremes as in the case of Private Pyle. Private Pyle is naturally good, as is Joker, but through psychological punishment and physical strain he becomes what sergeant Hartmen wants him to be: a cold killer. However, he does not turn out to be the killer sergeant Hartmen had planned; because the brainwashing takes a different effect on Pyle. He becomes severely emotionally unstable and ends up killing himself and Sergeant Hartmen. This identifies the fact that not everyone is meant to be a killer, and when pushed too hard they will erupt, spewing out all that has been forced upon them.
Private Joker on the other hand, is fairly immune to the conformities of basic training and tries to retain his humane side as much as possible. There are, however, break downs in this side of him at times. For example, when he joins in on the beating of Private Pyle. At first he is reluctant to hit him but when it comes his turn he beats him harder than any other had. This does not take away from the fact that Joker has resisted the brainwash but shows how a man's humanity will falter when he deems necessary for survival. The beating of Pyle demonstrates the animalistic nature of these soldiers. They understand that only the...
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