During the nineteen Sixties, I was a young boy in the Bronx, New York. Our family lived on a small street where parents worked, kids played and everything was right in the world. I knew nothing of the Vietnam war. One summer night the family, who lived beneath our apartment, received the news that their son had been killed in Vietnam. I don’t think i ever saw those parents smile or laugh again. Their grief was palpable. I can’t say how that impacted upon me as a young boy, but I knew I didn’t want to go to war, War wasn’t some Mickey mouse adventure.
Years later when I saw Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal jacket” an adaptation of Gustav hasfords novel The Short- Timers.I was sickened and overwhelmed with the harsh reality and devastating frankness of the films version of war. The Movie had so many moments, statements and scenes that forced this viewer to question or at least rethink what war must be like and what Vietnam must be like. John Wayne war movies always depicted the Americans as the “good guys” the cavalry to the rescue. Full metal Jacket was a very different movie.
The Final scene of the movie shows the surviving members from boot camp walking through a burning , destroyed village. no signs of life exist and it is a very dark night. the soldiers are singing, the ” M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E theme song from the Mickey Mouse club. Kubrick has made use of what, at the time, may have been one of the most popular and recognizable American images , Mickey Mouse. Coupling the song and our collected understanding of Mickey Mouse with a war scene was brilliant. What do you believe? If Mickey Mouse stood for everything good about American, what was his sing doing in this movie and being sung walking through this war destroyed village. It is hard to be both the knight in shining armor and the pillaging hoard. the scene left me questioning which one we were?
Matthew Modine’s Character ” private joker’ adds a voice over, his reminiscent thoughts of a sexual encounter with the High school beauty. His gratefulness to simply be alive, with short time left, and not afraid. The ‘world of shit” he lives in is better than death. Innocence lost and the devastation of war on the development of a young idealist is painful to hear and difficult to witness. The Mickey mouse club, although still be sung inthe background, is gone, life will never be the same.
The closing credits includes a song by the Rolling stones’ “paint it black”, Maybe not considered an anti war song of the time but it does very vividly convey the image of grief and unexpected loss. How nothing is ever seen again as it is, its all colored black. His use of balck and white colors during the credits again represent a question about the black and white thinking of war and the casualties of war. is it ever black and white, all good vs all bad. the movie and final scene make clear this is not the case.
Kubrick’s use of popular icons, songs and television characters was brilliant. He gave the audience a chance to see the other side of war but framed it with very safe parameters i.e. mickey Mouse. The viewer is free to explore a difficult topic and come up with difficult conclusions. ” War is hell” the cost is egregious in lives lost and lives forever changed. As an antiwar commentary the final scenes and soundtrack are very purposeful and successful. Wars aren’t the answer.