The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films.
About 2/3rds of the way through Full Metal Jacket I started to think about Paths of Glory. It’s not surprising, both are war films that are critical of war in some ways, and both are directed by Stanley Kubrick. Pretty obvious. I was struck, however, at how differently the two movies see war. This isn’t a case of a director making the same point in a different era. In fact, Kubrick conceptualizes the two wars (WWI for Paths, Vietnam for Full) almost completely differently. In Paths of Glory, his ire is aimed at the higher ups, the generals who rigidly stick to antiquated notions of what a war is and put the footsoldiers into harms way without a care for their humanity. In Full Metal Jacket, that inhumanity infects everybody. Sure, the generals are idiots for getting America into the mire and not doing anything to get us out or change anything, but now the grunts aren’t noble sacrifices to the gods of war, they see themselves as those gods personified. They willingly absolve themselves of their morals in order to fuck and kill their way through a foreign country and its people. Kubrick doesn’t have his characters call Vietnam and the warzones within it “the shit” for verisimilitude, he does it because he sees the US military as covered in the stuff, full of it, or even composed of it.