Aug 19, 2020 in Analysis

book War Films

Examination of Masculinity and Masculinization in Stanly Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket

Alongside such works as Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and 2001: Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket is, probably, one of the best-known films directed by Stanley Kubrick. At the same time, Full Metal Jacket can be viewed as, perhaps, one of the most important films about the war in Vietnam. For me personally, Full Metal Jacket ranges among such thrilling and though-provoking films as The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Platoon. What makes Full Metal Jacket unique is the fact that the script of the film is based on the novel The Sort-Timers, by Gustav Hasford, and the director’s perception of the world and reality.

Masculinity and masculinization can be viewed as one of the central motives of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The motive of masculinity and masculinization in the film manifests itself mainly through the characters of Private J. T. ‘Joker’ Davis and Private Leonard ‘Pyle’ Lawrence. It goes without saying, all Marine Corps recruits portrayed in the film undergo some sort of induction, a coming-of-age ceremony, once they find themselves on a military base at Parris Island. In the film itself, this is a moment when the recruits get their hair cut.


Apart from that, the makers of the film exploit the issue of weapon being a source of pleasure and pain at the same time. Sergeant Hartman, Senior Drill Instructor, is the one who turns out to be a strong proponent of weapons being perceived a source of pleasure for not just any man, but a soldier material. It goes without saying, Sergeant Hartman acts as an oppressive and despotic leader, giving his soldiers a hard time regularly. Specifically, Sergeant Hartman constantly gets at Private Lawrence. By and large, the film itself suggests that there is some sort of an inexplicable connection, however allusive, between weapons and men expressing their sexuality. The recruits were urged to and taught how to treasure their weapon. As Sergeant Hartman put it: “You’re married to this piece, this weapon of iron and wood, and you will be faithful”. At this point, it is necessary to take a small detour to mention the following detail. Joanna Bourke found that soldier’s being urged to think of and treat their weapons as women dates back to the years of the WWI. Another important episode in the film is the moment of prayer. The Marine Corps recruits’ prayer in the film goes as follows:

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I must master it as I must

master my life. Without me it is useless. Without it I am useless. I mustr fire my rifle

true. I must shoot my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots

me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and I are defenders of my country; we

are the masters of our enemy; we are the saviors of our life. So be it, until there is no

enemy, but peace.

The critics and researchers have estimated that ‘the prayer’ alludes a poem by Major General William H. Rupertus called “The Infantry Man’s Creed, My Rifle”. At this point, it is essential to point out that Major General Rupertus has written the poem after the events at Pearl Harbor. Unwittingly, the makers of the film Full Metal Jacket send the message as follows. No matter how great people’s deeds are, there is no point in being vile as there is no point in cruelty, wrath, hostility, and rage. Even more importantly, however, taking into consideration the canvas of the film as a holistic unity, what the film teaches us is that violence, hostility, wrath, anger, and rage bring nothing but decay, corruption, and destruction.   

At some point in the film, Private J. T. Davis is appointed a leader of the group. It is now his duty to help Private Lawrence through the drill. Calm and patient, Private Davis manages to get through to Private Lawrence, so much so that Private Lawrence gains some ground. Things are getting better for Private Lawrence up until the moment when Sergeant Hartman finds a doughnut in Private’s foot locker, after which Sergeant resorts to a disciplinary praxis of collective punishment: every time Private Lawrence fails, all but himself are being punished. Private Lawrence’s clumsiness leads to collective punishment, which, in its turn, leads to an attack Private Lawrence at night when he is beaten with bars of soap wrapped in towels. The attack on Private Lawrence’s is the beginning of his descend into madness. Private Lawrence is given an appointment to an infantry unit. Private Davis, according to the results of the training, is about to become a military journalist. The night before the group is about to set pout for Vietnam, Private Lawrence shots Sergeant Hartman and himself in front of Private Davis.

The next thing the audience knows, Private Davis finds himself in Vietnam, working as a journalist for Stripes and Stars. The elements that make his ammunition peculiar are as follows. He is wearing a helmet with an inscription on it that says “born to kill”, and a peace badge on his bulletproof vest. The details mentioned above are the symbols revealing the ambiguity of the war in Vietnam as one of the most tragic moments of the twentieth century. 

By and large, Full Metal Jacket is an illustration of how war shapes people’s lives. Apart from that, the film can considered as a contemplation and reflection on the roles that men play in society. At the same time, after watching the film, the following conclusion can be made. Private Lawrence, Private Davis, and Sergeant Hartman stand opposed to one another. Assuming that the foregoing statement is correct, each character represent a different type of personality. Private Lawrence is naïve, clumsy, and inexperienced. Private Davis is soft, patient, and yet, reserved. Sergeant Hartman is a tempestuous, authoritarian, despotic type. Consequently, each character represents a different type of masculinity. Even more importantly, however, each character understands masculinity in his own way. As far as Private Lawrence and Private Davis are concerned, their experiences of masculinization turn out to be quite different.

Examination of Kirby’s fatherly role, masculinity, and cowboy ethos in the film Green Berets

As Coleman puts it and Aitken interprets the statement, the construct of masculinity refers to but is not, actually, limited to cultural scripts, genetic and/or psychological image, social structures, geographic contexts, and historical practices. Instead, the concept of masculinity implies a reference to “a panoply of assemblages and relations” that women, children, and men are affected by. There is no denying the fact that there is an intimate connection between masculine identity, its formation, and military service. Aitken contends that army as a kind of a social institution may potentially contribute to a man’s becoming more masculine. With regard to this, training, discipline, emotional maturity and psychological stability can be viewed as the distinctive features of masculinity. Military service, in its turn, can be regarded as some sort of a shared experience. The evidence does support that shared experience is some important prerequisite when men attempt to create a bond. Evidently, masculinity can be viewed at as a personal practice. In this respect, it should be understood “not only within the context of larger institutions … , but also in terms of its own geography that conjoins with desire and genetic factors to color how men show up in, and help create, spaces of violence”. By “larger institutions” the author means referring to family, workplace, community, army, and a state.

Each of the fact mentioned above applies to the film called The Green Berets. Green Berets is a film directed by Ray Kellog and John Wayne. ‘Green Berets’ is an elite military unit, also known as the United States Army Special Forces. The Green Berets the film is a fictional story about men in combat. The film was made to justify the war as such and to legitimize the war in Vietnam in particular. It cannot be denied that the film addresses the issue of masculinity. One of the distinctive features of the film is the paternalistic style of Kirby’s masculinity. Colonel Mike Kirby happens to be one of the film’s protagonists. Mike Kirby proves himself to be an experienced warrior. At the same time, he is the one who has been in many terrifying battles and has seen many innocent civilian Vietnamese people die. He was the leader of two different groups on two important missions. He was the one to survive when NVA troops and Vietcong guerillas took over the US/South Vietnamese camp. He was the one to survive in a mission the objective of which was to capture NVA general Ti. Hamchunk is a young Vietnamese boy who Kirby bonds with. Hamchunk had lost all his family and friends. The last living being the boy had formed an emotional attachment to was a dog, who also died in an accident when the US/South Vietnam camp has been taken over by the guerillas and NVA troops. With the aforementioned points in mind, it is possible to define the style of Kirby’s masculinity as paternalistic. Kirby pities Hamchunk. The warrior sympathizes with the boy when he loses his only friend. It is quite natural that the boy and the soldier grow very fond of one another. In of the film’s final episodes, Kirby says to Hamchunk: “You're what this war is all about”. The quote cited above suggests that Colonel Mike Kirby had a firm belief that America fought in Vietnam for the good of Hamchunk’s people.

Apparently, Colonel Kirby cares for those he combats side by side with. Therefore, The Green Berets is a story about taking responsibility, being brave and willing to accept what is going to happen to you. Apart from that, through its cowboy ethos, the film gives insight into American national character. Thus, American culture in the film, namely, the film’s cowboy ethos as such, contrasts the Vietnamese customs, tradition, and way of life. The comparison of the Vietnamese and American cultures proves itself to be a point of considerable controversy in the film.

People like Colonel Kirby, all those who fought at war and saw many people die (their friends, probably), need rehabilitation by all means. Being at war is a daunting experience in itself. The process of warrior’s re-integration into society can be painful. Besides, the odds that a soldier may not get accustomed to peaceful, civilian life are great. Mike Kirby needs Hamchunk to adept to normal life again. The boy, in his own turn, needs someone to take care of him. Kirby and Hamchunk is a symbol of reconciliation and a hope that all peoples will learn to live in peace. 

All in all, The Green Berets is about honor, dignity, bravery, sacrifice, embracing the destiny, and acting responsibly. The film The Green Berets may abound with controversies. Most importantly, the piece film can be taken as a credible historical source by no means for there may be some historical inaccuracies in it (needless to say, the very essence of fiction supports the statement). However, the messages that the film conveys, some of its main ideas, serve the purpose of promoting the virtues and, at some point, paternalistic masculinity. 


Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets both refer to one of the most tragic and controversial events of the twentieth century, the Vietnam War. The titles of both pieces are important for they tune up the audience. Full metal jacket is a type of a bullet, which in broader context, implies a reference to weapons. The Green Berets are an elite military unit in the American Army, also known as the United States Army Special Forces. Arms and military services are the central themes in Full Metal Jacket and Green Berets respectively. Each of the film under consideration allows looking at the war in Vietnam from a different perspective. Each of the works of art being discussed gives an opportunity to contemplate how wars shape the lives of people. Both films abound with controversies. By and large, both works portray different types of masculinities, although in both cases, the central figures are men in combat, the latter being a factor determining the central characters’ identities.


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