You may not know that R. Lee Ermey was a real-life drill instructor who improvised all of his lines in this movie. He’s just so perfect in this role though it works throughout the first half of this movie, as in the second half everyone is in Vietnam and drill instructors got to stay safe and sound at home, training more soldiers to become bodies on the other side of the world. Though that’s not quite how things play out here…
The first act of this movie is about being indoctrinated into a cult, except that cult is the US Army. As the opening shots show us as the men come in and get their hair cut that these men are going from individuals to all being the same, and then R. Lee Ermey systematically breaks them all down until they really are all the same, inside and out. The only one able to keep their individuality is Joker, who, as the name implies, is able to see the humor in his situation even when things are at their most dark. It isn’t until he goes to Vietnam that they are allowed to be real people again. Humanity is taken from them again though as they are forced to carry out these horrible atrocities for the sake of their survival.
This movie is very dark, but, just as Joker does, it has a very bleak sense of humor throughout. You might see the similarities between this and the likes of Catch-22 or MASH as something that pokes fun at the horrors of war, though this does so while also showing you the actual horrors of war, specifically those of Vietnam. It gives you an outside perspective, at first, before taking you right into the shit of it. It was a horrible war done for stupid reasons by corrupt people and the American people suffered for it. But at least we stopped the flow of communism! (note: no we didn’t)
Why you should watch it before you die: If you like war movies this is one of the best ones out there, just like every Kubrick movie for every genre he touches. If you’re looking to learn about the Vietnam War, this one probably won’t show you more than what it was like from one person’s perspective and won’t actually teach you anything historical. It’s a damn good movie though.
+10: For being perfectly shot, written, acted, and directed