Criticism ∙5min | 2016

In August 2016, I began my studies as an MFA candidate in Screenwriting at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, a new program at Brooklyn College. One of my first semester core classes screened a different narrative feature film per week, to which we were required to respond with a brief written synopsis and analysis of its narrative structure.

This is one such response, written during week 3 of classes. I felt very strongly that the class syllabus and course curriculum at the time did not reflect the school's mission and values, as exemplified by the assignment of this particular film. Rather than discuss the film at face value, I offered a critical analysis of its status and impact as a so-called "classic" work of art.

why this film, of all films

I think my main problem with Full Metal Jacket is its one-sidedness in terms of perspective. The fact that the filmmaker deliberately neglects to acknowledge the Vietnamese point-of-view in any meaningful way completely discredits the film as a serious sociopolitical critique. The blatant objectification of the Vietnamese people (and especially women) is an obvious and inexorable indication of the film’s lack of depth. This is completely inexcusable and leads me to wonder why this film, of all films, was assigned as “essential” at a film school supposedly founded on the principle of amplifying diverse representations in film?

The message implicit in this decision is not one with which I agree, and yet I feel complicit in its endorsement by being forced to consider this garbage on par with truly insightful and impactful works of art. Why this, and not Beau Travail? Or if Kubrick is the point—why not Dr. Strangelove? Why not a more thoughtful, nuanced film whose purpose is to complicate and investigate the effects of war, rather than simplify and aestheticize them?

It is not enough to aestheticize violence.

It is not enough to aestheticize violence. It is not enough to juxtapose upbeat pop music with abhorrent, abrasive images, to portray evil in a way that is “accessible” to mass culture. To depict one-dimensional characters who are racist, misogynist, or just plain cruel is not a critique of them as such, merely a reinforcement of their predominance as heroic (or anti-heroic) archetypes in mainstream Western culture. It is not ironic; it is cliché. A film about a sarcastic American with above-average-intelligence who jokes his way through the trauma of war is neither honest nor compelling. It is condescending, and it is irrelevant.

Regarding the film’s narrative structure:

On the whole, we discover, even writers who profess a concern about truth do not often take the trouble to search out real understanding or dramatically earn their assertions… Instead of the decadence of texture without structure, the enfeebled modernist offers structure independent of—and indifferent to—texture… Universals run roughshod over the particulars they require for validation. This decadence is in a way even less to be admired than the decadence of opaque language. Instead of saying nothing, it says, with speciously dramatic effect, fashionable things that are not so. —John Gardner, On Moral Fiction

I refuse to entertain the value of analyzing the formal structure of a film whose content leaves much to be desired from viewers who are ostensibly more intelligent and sensitive than Kubrick would have us believe. A great film is an insightful and effective synthesis of form and content—a structure composed in service of an original and worthwhile story. Full Metal Jacket is not.

Thanks to Topper Lilien, who (for the record) was very supportive of and delighted with my response to this assignment.

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