Research Paper Assignment

In order to write this paper, you have to watch the film “Full Metal Jacket – Joker as Existentialist Rebel” by Stanley Kubrick.

Section 1
Discussion of the career of film director Stanley Kubrick from at least two sources. It is important to bear in mind that Stanley Kubrick was influenced by French existentialism, like Marguerite Duras was. The key influence for Kubrick was Albert Camus.

Section 2
Discuss the Vietnam War and the controversies surrounding it. It is required that you refer to the introduction for Nick Turse’s Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam that I sent to you in a pdf format and information about the My Lai massacre which was also sent to you in a pdf format. This material is essential for understanding Stanley Kubrick’s view of the Vietnam War.

Section 3
Introduce Full Metal Jacket and demonstrate how it raises questions about the Vietnam War and war in general.

Section 4
Introduce the subject of the paper: Joker as an “existentialist rebel figure”. Explain why he is an existentialist rebel. Discuss his role as journalist, provide examples and then provide an overview of his experiences in the film.

(Teaching Notes)
For the section on the overview of Joker you need to establish that Joker is an existentialist rebel who is living in an absurd world which for him is the Vietnam War , a war he doesn’t believe in or support, but nevertheless, he has to fight in it like most American young men of his generation. For him “to be true to himself”, he must become a rebel, show some opposition to the war which was obviously very difficult for a U.S. Marine to do. How does he oppose the war? One way is the helmet he wears. On his helmet there is written “Born to Kill” and there is also a peace symbol which means he doesn’t believe in war. This symbol was used by the anti-Vietnam War Movement. In other words, the contrast between “born to kill” and an anti-war peace symbol illustrates the central contradiction in his life.

Another reason why he becomes a “joker” or “smart ass’ is because it allows him to get away with his oppositional position as long as his efforts are seen as ironic or a joke. This is seen during one the first scenes of the film at boot camp where he challenges the Marine drill sergeant when he says: “ You think you are John Wayne?” (John Wayne was a famous politically conservative film actor who many in Joker’s generation found ridiculous because of his extreme nationalist views.) Joker makes this comment knowing that there will be consequences. Why does he do this? It’s his way of showing he doesn’t believe in the military or war. He gets away with it by making it into a joke or a seemingly crazy comment.

Another important example is in the Vietnam section when Marine film directors are making a documentary film about the war by interviewing soldiers to find out how they feel about the war. Most are inarticulate and reflect their confusion about the war. One even says: “We are fighting the wrong “gooks”? He means that he has more respect for the enemy than he does for the South Vietnam soldiers he fighting with and supporting. When they get to Joker, he makes a very ironic and difficult to fully understand statement when he says: “I came to Vietnam because it is the crown jewel of South Asia. I wanted to experience an ancient culture. I wanted to meet interesting people and kill them! I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a kill.” What he is saying is he respects the enemy, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese and is inspired by their ancient culture, so killing them is absurd and inhuman, and then Joker goes on to criticize the way some American soldiers trivialize the killing of Vietnamese. The central idea behind this scene is if Joker had voiced his feelings and opposition to the war directly, he would have been viewed as a traitor, arrested and received a prison sentence. Joker makes this comment “as a way to be true to himself ”. He gets away with it by turning his feelings into an ironic joke that is difficult to fully understand as I mention above.

The other way Joker voices his opposition to the war comes out in the next to last scene through his reaction to the young Vietcong female guerilla who he understands is a “freedom fighter” who is trying to defend her village from American atrocities. (You will describe and discuss this encounter toward the end of the Vietnam section.)

Finally, you need to establish in this overview of Joker as the main character that Joker is a journalist and the moral mandate or requirement for the journalist is to seek out the truth and report it. Joker seeks out the truth – there are several examples which you will write about later in your paper – but he can’t print it because his discoveries are too controversial for a military newspaper.

***** Now here is a central argument for your paper. Joker does get to tell the truth or his story. The film is his story! The proof is the film is narrated through “voice-overs” and long film shots of his expressions.

This approach will determine how you organize Section 1 and Section 2 of the film and what you say for the introductions and conclusions for these two sections. Also, it is assumed there will be repetition. Some of the information and interpretation of joker as the main character in this overview will be used and developed in the other sections.

Section 5
Discuss the boot camp section through Joker’s eyes. Explain the importance of boot camp, discuss why the denigration of women (with examples) is necessary as well as the purpose of sacrilegious comments (also with examples). Explain the importance of racially demonizing the enemy, and then go on to discuss the character Lawrence, “Gomer Pyle” and explain why he is important.

(Teaching Notes)
It is important to establish again that this section represents Joker’s experience through his voice- over and through long shots that focus on his facial expressions, and it is through Joker’s experiences that the film director wants to make clear that the purpose of boot camp is to reduce every Marine’s moral moorings which is done on two levels: 1) diminishing soldiers emotional relationships with women – girlfriends, sisters and mothers – into pornographic cartoon like characters. The boot camp scenes are full of misogynistic depictions of women. The director gets away with this because the drill sergeant is a very humorous and over – the – top character much like professional comedians who can get away with satirizing almost anything. Nevertheless, the film director wants to make clear that this grotesque humor is essential to training Marines for combat. The second goal of boot camp to bread down – not completely destroy – recruits’ ties to religion. There are two obvious examples. One is the sacrilegious comment the drill sergeant makes when he orders two recruits to clean the toilet. He says: “ I want the head (toilet) to be so clean that the virgin Marry would be proud to take a dump.” Another, more grotesques example, is during Christmas when the drill sergeant reassures the recruits when he says Jesus has a hard-on (erection) for Marines. More can be said about the celebration of Christmas in boot camp.

You need to explain again at this point that the purpose of denigrating women and trivializing religion is to break down emotional bonds. As the drill sergeant says: “It’s a hard heart that kills.” And you need to explain that another purpose of boot camp is to dehumanize (racially) the enemy so it is easy to kill the enemy. The film director doesn’t do this in the boot camp section where this always happens. Instead, he shows how the humanity of the Vietnamese is reduced to being sub-human via the terms “gook” and “slant eyes” in the Vietnam section. Also based on the information in Kill Everything That Moves. The view that “it’s a hard heart that kills” can backfire. Certainly boot camp can produce Marines who can fight in combat, but it
can also produce Marines who can commit atrocities.

* Now, after you have explained all of the above, you can discuss Lawrence / Gomer Pyle and his function in the film. The simple answer is what happens to him reflects the power of boot camp and illustrates as well that not all recruits are fit for the military. There is more to this section. I will let you fill it in.

Section 6
The focus for the section on Vietnam should be on Joker and his experiences. Identify them and discuss their importance. Be sure to discuss again the two atrocity scenes with reference to Kill Anything that Moves. Discuss the famous joking scene where Joker explains on camera why he is in Vietnam and then discuss the complexity of the female Vietcong sniper scene plus the meaning of the ending of the film.

(Teaching Notes)
This section is set in Vietnam. There are more Joker “voice- over’s”, so this part of the film is also Joker’s story about his experiences in Vietnam. I will mention some of the key experiences, but you should add others. This section opens with a South Vietnamese prostitute in Saigon, South Vietnam (there were no prostitutes in North Vietnam) and shortly afterwards Rafterman’s camera is stolen. Joker is again living in an “absurd” world. This time it’s the corruption and moral decay of South Vietnam, the side Joker and other Marines will risk their life for. Later you see Joker at work as a journalist. He continues to make jokes as a way to distance himself from the war, and you learn in these scenes that the Vietnam War is not a popular war and you see Joker is willing to fight the “enemy” to protect himself and his “comrades”. More can be said about this section.

The sections that follow, which take place in the combat or battle zone, are essential. The first two scenes – the helicopter ride where innocent civilians are killed including women and children, and then the village burial pit where Vietnamese civilians have been executed require some analysis with references to the assigned research materials Kill Anything that Moves and the brief summary of the My Lai atrocity. There are three important issues to focus on. One is Americans and the South Vietnamese who they support are committing atrocities which are meant by the film director to be examples of all of the horrible atrocities committed by Americans in this war, and as Kill Anything That Moves reveals, there is a serious race
problem. Vietnamese are dehumanized as inferior in racial terms, so it is easier to kill civilians including women, children and old people and the dead body scene in the village reminds the movie viewer of the My Lai massacre. The second issue is Joker functions as a reporter in both scenes. He asks the gunner in the helicopter whether or not he kills women and children and once he hears about the massacre – the killing fields – in the village he goes there to find out the truth for himself. He can not write up these two experiences, but, as mentioned before, he will be able to tell his story through the film.

Finally, the third issue, is the gunner in the helicopter. Obviously he was trained in book camp to have a “hard heart” so he can function as a combat marine, but having a “hard heart” coupled with the experience can make it easy for him to commit atrocities.

Another key scene, which you will have mentioned before, is when Joker is interviewed by a Marine documentary film crew. This is important for seeing Joker as an existentialist rebel. Here Joker is “true to himself” because he provides a devastating critique of the Vietnam War, raises questions about his involvement in this war while showing sympathy and in human terms for the enemy he kills. He gets away with this because he is seen as a joker so he makes criticize the war with humor and irony which most will not fully understand.

There are other scenes in the Vietnam section you can discuss which reveal the racism against the Vietnamese, American Marines lack of respect for the South Vietnamese (the side they are fighting for) and in one case, respect for the enemy. And there is the example of the dead officer who would go to any lengths to get out of the way.

Now I want to provide analysis of the next to last scene – the scene where Joker is forced to kill a Vietcong female guerilla who Joker understands is a “freedom fighter” who is simply defending her villages from the American and South Vietnamese atrocities that are described in Kill Anything That Movers and in the reports about the My Lai massacre. Here are some basic points. Joker can’t kill the Vietcong guerilla because he “doesn’t have a “hard heart” even though the guerilla killed his best friend, and he is unable to kill her because he understands who she is, a “freedom fighter” who is simply defending her village. Interesting, when I fist saw Full Metal Jacket in a NYC movie theatre when it first came out, the multi- cultural / multi-racial audience cheered when they saw the female Vietcong guerilla firing her machine gun. Why? The audience was familiar with the racist atrocities of the Vietnam War or the American War.

Section 7
Watch the North Vietnamese film The Little Girl from Hanoi (1975), found on “youtube” and explain why Americans should see it. It is not necessary to see the entire film. The simple answer is Americans should see this film made during the Vietnam War so they can see that the enemy had a “human face” and they can se the kind of Vietnamese civilians that Nick Turse describes in his important book Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.

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