Full Metal Jacket
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Full Metal Modine: Behind the Scenes of Full Metal Jacket

US History
US History
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Released in 1987, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is a searing commentary on the damaging aspects of war, and the sometimes cruel methods used to prepare regular people for its horrors. An adaptation of Gustov Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers, the film centers on two periods of time for Private James T. “Joker” Davis; Marine Corps boot camp, a view into the transformation of civilians into Marines, and the deployment of the main character to Vietnam. 

The boot camp scenes, despite being decades before my time, remain accurate to the experience. The uniforms and rifles may be older, but the rigors and sometimes terrifyingly and unintentionally funny moments are there. From Private “Pyle” Lawrence leaving his footlocker open to the sadistic delight of GySgt Hartman which gave us “a jelly donut?!” to Private Joker’s sarcastic “Is that you John Wayne? Is this me?” the boot camp section fully entangles surreal comedy and Kafkaesque darkness in a way few directors have managed, culminating in the destruction of Lawrence’s psyche and death of GySgt Hartman.

When the film shifts to Private Joker’s deployment to Vietnam as a combat correspondent, he has been through infantry school, a military journalism school, has been published in several newspapers and magazines, and has reached the rank of Corporal. The remainder of the film follows about the structure one would expect, with Joker eventually witnessing the death of comrades and the horrors of war in Vietnam. This would generally be the part where I would describe some of the key sections… But the effect would not be the same. If you haven’t watched this film by now, do so, but watch it when you have other things to do afterward so you don’t get stuck in that rabbit hole for too long.

Recently, the actor who played the part of Joker, Matthew Modine, released a series of pictures he had taken from his time on set using the “60’s era Rolleiflex camera used by his character.” Many of these photographs were produced into “large scale aluminum prints” for an exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which will be on display until September of 2025. On a rain-soaked Tuesday I found myself walking into the museum, a place I have been dozens of times before, to get a look at these plates.

In a darkly painted area with little decoration, pomp or circumstance, the plates hang on the walls in silence, with two plaques giving a brief description of their purpose. Taking myself out of the mindset of behind-the-scenes photography, it was easy to look at several of the images and feel the nostalgia of my time on deployment. There could be many reasons these shots resonated with me, from Matthew Modine being an exceptional photographer, to the cast bonding over difficult filming conditions in a way that trauma bonding often makes people closer. Whichever reality is the correct one, there is no denying that some of the photographs will hit home for veterans, especially those who have seen the complicated nature of a combat deployment. 

If you find yourself in the Quantico, Virginia area, I would always recommend a trip to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, as it is an excellent look into the history of pride and service in America’s finest fighting force, but if you happen to get there before September 2025, take a few moments at the end to contemplate what you see, as art and life seem to blend together on those bright metal plates.

Editor's note: All photographs featured in this blog post are of the Art Exhibit Full Metal Modine, by Matthew Modine. Displayed at the National Marine Corps Museum in Triangle, Virginia. Pictures of the exhibit were taken by Alexander Pfeffer, as allowed by the museum.

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