Part 1: Philosophy and Cinematography of Full Metal Jacket

I just finished watching ‘Full Metal Jacket‘, and have a lot of food for thought. Warning: the film is extremely graphic, and there are a lot of spoiler alerts ahead.



  1. The ability for humans to become brainwashed and dehumanized, and to become insane. For example in the film, one of the fat cadets is slowly beaten down and dehumanized by the squad leader, and eventually goes ‘awol’ and ends up killing the squad leader, and himself.
  2. The strange relationship between people and the camera: During the film, there is a ‘meta-joke’ — there is a film crew interviewing the soldiers about their stances on the war. Also note in the film, whenever soldiers are being photographed or interviewed, they always put on a smile (because you’re always expected to smile for the camera).
  3. It is clear from the film that Kubrick is anti-war.
  4. Spoiler: At the ending scene, the one sniper who takes out 3 members of the squad is a young Vietnamese girl. Funny enough, the protagonist of the film (named “Joker”) is the most morale/ethical of them all: he gives a ‘mercy killing’ to the young girl, when the other soldiers (who are apparently ‘gung-ho’ cannot kill a person, when they are humanized, face-to-face). Also a reminder that in war, it isn’t just men killing one another– so many young kids are being killed, innocent civilians, and individuals (on both sides of the war).
  5. Ultimate takeaway for me: The insane ability for humans to become brain-washed. Therefore, when it comes to any institution (military, industrial, education), we must instruct people with wisdom. All humans deserve dignity; by removing dignity from humans, we become worse than animals.

Contact sheets

First of all, let us analyze the contact sheets of the film. I made screenshots on my laptop, and exported the contact sheets via the ‘Print’ function in Lightroom.

Study the general flow of the film– in terms of the camera angles, the colors, and the cinematography:


In terms of the cinematography, there is a lot to analyze:

1. Dehumanization

In the beginning scene, you see the heads of the soldiers getting shaved. To me, this is a symbolism of your individuality being cut out from you; you become another generic soldier:

Then you see all of his ‘individuality’ on the floor — symbolized via his cut hair:

2. Joking / fighting authority

The main character of the film (Joker) totally ‘trolls’ the squad captain, by cracking a joke. Later on in the film, he is respected by the squad captain ironically by standing up. Note the different camera angles used by Kubrick:

I quite like this frame, when you have a super low angle, looking up: it looks like you are in the shoes of Joker, looking up at the captain:

When Joker is asked to give a war cry:

Note the composition, shot head-on with a telephoto lens, with Joker dead in the center, and the sergeant’s head blocked off to the right of the frame (bookend):


Then this very innovative angle, from behind Joker’s head:

3. Moving background

Something I really love in Kubrick’s films: his use of the moving background. For example, when there is movement or action in the foreground or middle-ground of the scene, there is often something moving/happening in the background!

This is great because it makes the scenes feel more vivid, more dynamic, and more alive and “real”. Also the scenes have more depth, and the viewer is more transported into the scenes.

4. Repetition


In terms of the cinematography / composition, I love the repetition of these forms:


Reminds me of the painting ‘Golconda’ (1953) by Rene Magritte:

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5. Fraternity

There is a very warm part of the film when Joker takes ‘Pyle’ (the fat guy) under his wing. It is apparent by this part of the film that Pyle is developmentally-challenged.

Lesson: There is a great joy of putting someone ‘under your wing’, to help empower them:


6. Epic layers (pulling out shot)

This is the thing that really inspires me so much about Kubrick: he is always surprising you as the viewer with his cinematography.

For example in this shot, you see the camera slowly pan out, and there continues to be more and more layers, and stuff happening in the shot!

Insanely epic cinematography:


7. The cold dark nature of humanity

So later on, the sergeant catches Pyle (the fat guy) sneaking donuts into the barracks at night. He ends up doing a ‘collective punishment’ on the platoon, which means that whenever Pyle screws up, the sergeant punishes everyone else. This is actually an effective way to punish– because what ends up happening is that everyone else in the platoon ends up hating Pyle, and in the middle of the night, they express their anger towards Pyle, by beating him with soap bars in the middle of the night, and covering his mouth.

Note the eerie blue tones, to signify the scene. Also in the film, the music used in this scene is very effective and creepy. It truly breaks your heart:

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This scene is also significant, because Joker faces this ethical dilemma:

To keep everyone in the squad happy, he allows them to beat Pyle as a sacrificial lamb. But he has to deal with the consequences of the guilt.

The day after, you see the pain and suffering in the eyes of Pyle, made dramatic by the camera zoom into his face:


Then the next scene, you can start to see the fore-shadowing of the insanity and perhaps killer-instinct emerging in Pyle. Note the dramatic stare, and once again– the zoom-effect into Pyle’s face as the signifying cinematography of impending danger:


To be continued in Part 2…


Cinematography and life lessons:

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