Sunday, December 26, 2010

Full Mental Jack

The internet has no shortage of armchair theoreticians examining the subtextual undercurrents of Stanley Kubrick films. I'm but one of many, but I'm the least dogmatic one I know; most of the leading Kubrick online "experts" have a tendency to indulge in wild speculation out of left field, then insist that their interpretation is absolutely right. Do a little digging and you'll find whole clusters of internet assholes arguing bitterly about what Kubrick really must have meant in his films, like medieval monks fighting over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

But Kubrick wasn't supporting any of these guys' interpretations when he was alive, and he sure isn't supporting them now.

I merely present these disassociated fragments for what they are: puzzling evidence from Full Metal Jacket. What do you make of this, Professor?

* Satan. According to several online sources, the Vietnamese phrase "TIếP TụC PHụNG Sự QUỷ NGÀI" seen on a building during a battle scene, means "To continuously serve Satan, your excellency." Given that there's already been some conspiratorial rumblings about Kubrick's fascination with Satanism, this would seem to be a wakeup call to assess Full Metal Jacket with the same scrutiny as The Shining, even though on the face of it the film appears to be a completely normal war flick, even by Kubrick standards.

In an early draft of Kubrick's script, Hartman says, "Have you seen the light? The white light? The great light? The guiding light? Do you have the vision?" And as you should already know, Lucifer is known as "the light bringer".

Further occult symbolism appears throughout the film, but one of my favorites is the scene where the men are all standing like religious statues out of ancient Egypt, ostensibly for the purpose of having their fingernails examined.

* Changing directions. One of the oddest things about the film is its unconventional plot structure. For the first third of it, the stars of the movie are Private Pyle and Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, and the plot is solely concerned with Pyle's torment by Hartman through basic training. Then something very strange happens: both these main characters die, and the movie takes a hard left turn into following Joker and a newly-added character, Rafterman, into battle.

This theme of "changing direction" pervades the film. Cowboy even says it aloud: "okay, listen up, we're changing direction." In that same scene, there's a shot where Doc Jay is seemingly dragging Eightball's body in the wrong direction, and if you take the time to obsessively map out the line-of-fire trajectory of the female sniper's shots, you'll find that none of it makes internal sense. And if we can claim to know one thing about Kubrick, it's that he was obsessive about such details - so even if something looks like a grievous continuity error, it isn't.

A sign reading "TÂM PHƯƠNG" reportedly translates as "center direction".

* John F. Kennedy. Collative Learning suggests the way the sniper scene was filmed with impossible shots is meant to indicate a subliminal commentary on the Kennedy assassination, and its "magic bullet" that impossibly changes direction. That Hartman mentions JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald earlier in the film, and that Cowboy is from Texas, also supposedly is connected to this. There's a lot of smoke there, but there's some fire.

To this end, I would also note that the magician rabbit stuffed animal that turns out to be a booby-trap could be a reference both to the "trickster rabbit" archetype, which, as we have already examined here, has parallels with Lee Harvey "Ozzie Rabbit" Oswald.

* The Shining. Parallels with The Shining are found aplenty here. Compare the bathroom scenes in both films. Note that subtle placement of images of Snoopy and Mickey Mouse appear in both. And speaking of the "trickster rabbit" archetype again, remember the Bugs Bunny thread running through The Shining. Also note the "indigenous people" subtext of both films (and in FMJ, there's even a scene where a giant graphic of a Native American appears behind Joker's shoulder)

And most important of all, note how Pyle's face begins to morph impossibly into Jack Torrance's, shortly before he puts his rifle in his mouth and commits suicide. (Remember in The Shining when Ullman mentions that the 1970 Grady did exactly the same thing?)

Is Pyle, in fact, demonically possessed? He certainly looks like it. And when he says "I am in a world of shit", it could be another subtle Kubrick joke (he is, after all, in the restroom and his name is Pyle) but it could also mean that he is in literally in Hell. Note that Hartman uses the same phrase earlier, when he instructs the men that Marines are not allowed to die, and when they do they end up in "a world of shit." At the film's end, the phrase appears for a third time. Joker walks through a hell-like landscape of fire as he acknowledges that he too is now "in a world of shit."

* Unreality. And just like in The Shining, things keep moving around, shifting, changing. Bullet holes disappear and reappear. Buildings change position. A burning Monolith-like structure comes and goes on the battlefield. And Pyle himself impossibly changes his place in line in the film's opening sweep past each of the men. We clearly see him in one place, then he's suddenly in the opposite corner of the room just seconds later.

Consider the notion that these men are actually in a literal netherworld, a purgatory, a Hell: there are a few indicators that maybe none of this real and is only a dream (which is a theory some have applied to The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut as well). When Hartman discovers that Pyle has gone insane, he shouts, "what are you animals doing in my head?"... "Head" being military jargon for toilet, of course. And just prior to this scene, Joker shines his flashlight on Hartman's name and then the word "Head" on the other door, very slowly to make sure we get it.

Perhaps the film should be best summed up by Cowboy's comment to Pyle after they beat him in the middle of an eerie blue-light-tinged night: "Remember, it's just a bad dream."

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