Now that I've successfully click-whored a few visitors, I will explain...
First, I love the film, "Full Metal Jacket." Between the brutality of basic training and the cynicism of the Vietnam scenes, it never let's up. It's one of those movies that when I see it's on, I watch at least a few minutes.
As a film only, it's a big success. As an adaption of it's source material, the late Gustav Hasford's "The Short-Timers," it is fatally flawed, and director Stanley Kubrick made two creative choices that completely undermined Hasford's much more gut-punch of a narrative.
The movie hinges on two pivotal scenes that conclude the two 'chapters' of the narrative - basic training, and then the sniper scene at the movie's end.
So a powerful scene that conveys the brutality of basic training, and how it debases humanity to its breaking point. The scene also shows how Joker keeps in character, by this point well-trained, and tells Gunny Hartmann "It's the private's duty to inform the senior drill instructor..." He doesn't panic, start yelling or anything. Drill Sergeant Hartmann has trained him well.
The second scene is where Joker kills the sniper that has shot Joker's best friend, Cowboy, and several other Marines.
It shows both Joker's final capacity to kill - both in vengeance and in mercy:
The machine-gunner - Animal Mother - would rather leave the sniper to die, but doesn't stop Joker from killing her. In the end, as long as some killing is taking place, everyone is satisfied - no matter the motivation.
Both these scenes - taken just within the context of the film - are classics, and powerfully acted and carefully composed by Kubrick, a master director. The screenplay, written by Kubrick, Hasford, and Michael Herr (author of "Dispatches") was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Nevetheless, the scenes are both beautful failures - falling apart as artifice and bad choices as soon as the original source material is consulted. Sorry, but that's the way it is.
Had they been filmed and presented the way Hasford originally wrote them, both scenes true intentions are much different - and far, far more powerful.
The basic training scene ends the same way - Leonard shoots Hartmann.
In the film version, Hartmann is shot mid-sentence. Leonard has finally had enough. He shoots Hartmann and immediately kills himself. At the end, Hartmann's threats do nothing.
The book is significantly different; it's especially different in the only way that matters - the emotional heft of the pivotal moment.
Normally, I wouldn't bootleg parts of a book, but in this case I think once you get the taste for these moments you'll want to read the whole thing, and it is a forgotten classic. The problem is that it's out-of-print and hard to find.
The scene in the latrine begins much the same way (in the book, Hartmann's character is "Gerheim"):
So instead of the - yes, shocking - but conventional filmed moment where Leonard shoots a babbling, yelling Hartmann we now have Gerheim/Hartmann's pivotal realization that he has done it - that he has succeeded in turning Leonard/Pyle into a cold-blooded killer just as he intended.
Now, you can interpret the "Private Pyle, I'm proud..." statement a different way if you want, but Hasford wrote: "His eyes, his manner are those of a wanderer who has found his home. He is a man in complete control...He smiles. It is not a friendly smile, but an evil smile..."
I'm sorry, but there's no mistaking that - Hartmann/Gerheim knows that Pyle's about to shoot him, and he's content with this outcome.
That scene as written - had it been filmed with a tight close-up of R. Lee Ermey's magnificent sneer - would have so much more powerful than the original ending that it would have been incomparable.
But, Kubrick went with "bang, you're dead." Big loss, big mistake.
The second and equally poor creative decision was the movie's conclusion where Joker kills the sniper, and avenges Cowboy and also provides some mercy.
In the book, he's merciful in a much different way:
Instead of the vanilla staredown between Joker and Animal Mother in the filmed version, which simply leads to Joker shooting the sniper in an unshown scene, we now have Joker graphically killing his best friend to save the rest of the Marines who are about to try and save Cowboy, even though they know the sniper will shoot them all.
In the book, the sniper is never seen. Once Joker is dead, and there's no reason to stay, the Marines leave. I can see why that scene was changed - a film audience doesn't want the last scene to be an American Marine shooting another Marine, and then the 'bad guy' doesn't even get their just desserts. It's not right, right?
But it's a much better ending, and speaks to Hasford's relentless vision - he is the one, after all, who visualized that perfectly cinematic moment in literary form; he even gave Cowboy the best line of the scene: "I never liked you, Joker. I never thought you were funny." In all caps, no less. That's brilliant.
Like with R. Lee Ermey above, giving that line to Cowboy (played by Arliss Howard) in the movie would have been far stronger than Cowboy's fairly conventional death scene shortly before (he's shot through a small gap in a shattered wall; the viewer sees it from the sniper's POV).
Joker gets the second-best line, "I've got nothing against dead people. Some of my best friends are dead." Again, that's an Oscar-quality line of dialogue - if you've got the balls to rub your audience's face in it.
Both written endings are superior, but I can see how they would have been too challenging to film audiences, especially in 1987. They remake everything else, so if they ever do another version of this book, I hope they get it right.
(I'm obviously not the only one to have recognized these changes, but the Wiki about the book's film adaption doesn't make it clear just how significantly these decisions changed the tone of the movie.)
Hasford and Kubrick had poor relations on the set of the movie, and Hasford was eventually thrown off the set. Kubrick's adaption of "The Shining," it should be noted, has been criticized by Stephen King - even though the movie stands up on its own, it does have flaws when compared to the source.
In a couple weeks I will post a conversation I've had with with "Fire and Forget" editor Roy Scranton about fictional writing. He makes the point that fictional writing presents ideas and events that could/should have happened - even if it's not technically true. So the fictional "Catch-22" of the book (you can't fly if you're crazy, but if you try to get out of flying then you're obviously not crazy) is a fictional military term - but it could have been real.
There's nothing especially unique or creative about Kubrick's two choices - I'm sure a drill sergeant has actually been killed by a trainee in a similar situation, and I'm sure a soldier has committed a mercy/revenge killing during war.
Hasford's two brutal fictional scenes - a drill sergeant evilly pleased that he created a killer, even if he's the victim; a Marine willing to shoot his best friend to save others - might not have ever happened in real life...but they could have happened.
I respectfully disagree. I think it would have been corny and overwrought if Hartmann was sneering and saying he was proud. It's not a realistic reaction and I think Hartmann's reaction in the film is perfect because it shows that he doesn't know how to treat his soldiers other than yelling at them. It shows how the military establishment can be ignorant and misguided.
I don't agree with that - I think the film shows Hartmann knows exactly how to train the Marines. That's why Joker responds as his training demanded. That's why I think it's ineffective when Leonard just shoots him in mid-sentence. That's what's not realistic.
Also, I don't think that gives R. Lee Ermey enough credit. I can completely envision Ermey giving that "I'm proud..." line, and it would have worked.
UPDATE: But - in the quick scene of a movie, the "I'm proud..." line would have been harder to follow and for the viewer to interpret. So I could see where Kubrick thought about it but decided the audience wouldn't understand what was going on, and I could understand that.
A lot of Kubrick's film's deal with dehumanization. In this film, it shows how not only Leonard has been turned into a psychotic, but also Hartmann as well. Both sides of the military establishment are dehumanized by war and battle.
Yeah, but the book shows how Hartmann's really psychotic - he's not just someone who's yelling at the trainees. He's content that he trained a cold-blooded killer. I agree about the dehumanization point, though.
Also, the scene with Joker is interesting because Kubrick wanted to show that not everyone is dehumanized completely. There is still some hope for some people. Joker tries his best to keep his humanity. He tries to help Leonard when they are at training. He reluctantly beats Leonard with the soap. He is the only one who jokes back to Hartman. I think Kubrick is trying to say through Joker's actions that a sense of humor, however cynical, is important and keeps things in perspective.
I agree with that - clearly, the "Joker kills Cowboy" scene just would not have worked as a movie's conclusion. I think that explanation of Kubrick's motivation sounds good to me. But - Joker would still have kept his humanity; his shooting of Cowboy saves the other Marines. That's why he did it. Hartmann/Gerheim trained him well too.
I don't think it would've been realistic if everyone in the film is a psychotic from war. Obviously, Joker will have some mental and emotional scars, but he is nowhere near the level of Leonard of even Hartmann.
Okay, I agree with that.
Basically, I don't think Stanley Kubrick had any cowardice. I think he had a good idea of what he was doing and how he wanted to do it.
I agree with that too...Kubrick's a great director, and FMJ is a great movie...I'm just trying to stir the pot. :-)
I was going to say that Leonard seems colder in the film version, and that's probably what Kubrick had in mind.
I think that's right. When Hasford's version of Leonard keeps talking and babbling about "Did you see the way he looked at her?" it get's a little unneccessary. In that regard, I think Kubrick's and D'Onofrio did a better job with the part.
Wait - a clarification:
I'm talking about the death of Hartman, by "private pyle". It's colder to kill him in mid-sentence and, like you said, "shows that he [hartman] doesn't know how to treat his soldiers other than yelling at them."
I agree that Pyle comes across much colder when he shoots Hartmann mid-sentence, but I think that's less effective overall. Okay, Leonard/Pyle's crazy...and, so what? I'm much more intrigued by Hartmann/Gerheim's final revelation (victory?) and that would have been more powerful than using just that silly slo-mo shot.
UPDATE: Some more Reddit comments:
I don't think Stanley Kubrick would have ever gotten R. Lee Ermy to have that reaction. R. Lee Ermey has a more sincere approach to what the military is trying to do with the principle of discipline.
That's Ermey's problem more than Kubrick's. I'm not sure what Ermey's approach to discpline has to do with it - it's a movie, not real basic training after all. But like you say:
I think even as that sentiment in the book is different, R. Lee Ermey's opinion might be one of the reasons Stanley Kubrick picked R. Lee Ermey for the role.
That could be true.
There might be people who have this attitude in the military, but even if this is true I don't think R. Lee Ermey would ever encourage it. I do think there is a general consideration inside the military to have a more civil and orderly approach. In the last couple of decades I think they have gotten more precise and empathic to their approach of basic training.
Maybe NOW, but by all accounts basic training during the Vietnam era was a lot different. In 1956, a Marine instructor - drunk, by some accounts - led his trainees on a march through a swampy marsh where several drowned. So yeah, in the last couple decades things have "improved," but the movie takes place in 1967.
Never mind recent sex abuse scandals. So while we like to believe certain things about basic training, the reality is often a little different.
Coward eh? Maybe if you ignore basically every other film the man made, this is the same guy that was responsible for A Clockwork Orange, Doctor Strangelove and Lolita, he's certainly no coward.
Haha - okay, you got me. Of coruse, you're right. "Paths of Glory" is an excellent example of Kubrick's war movies.
I'd say the reason Full Metal Jacket's ending strays from the source material is probably more because the Joker character, at least the way he ended up at the final cut of the film, isn't presented as someone who could pull the trigger on his best friend, to save the platoon or not. You might believe that sort of transformation is 'possible' if it slowly builds over a couple of days worth of reading with a novel in your hands in three hundred pages or what ever the case may be, but in a ninety minute movie?
The book's very short, but that aside, sure it's possible. Why wouldn't it be? It's not a "transformation," but a decision that a Marine might have to make - sacrifice one for the rest. If Joker can shoot the female sniper why can't he save his fellow Marines by shooting one of them? If he can't pull the trigger on his best friend, then not only his best friend but everybody else dies too.
Who knows, they may have even shot an ending that was closer to the book and it could been that is just didn't 'work' in the editing room, or maybe Kubrick couldn't get the performance out of the actors he wanted, Kubrick was known to be a perfectionist sometimes to an absurd degree after all.
Well, if he was such a perfectionist, he would have gotten the ending he wanted. No, he made this choice.
(I wish someone would post their thoughts here...)