Vietnam War Films Analysis

In the Year of the Pig is a documentary film, directed by Emile de Antonio (1968), which recounts the American participation in the Vietnam War. It focuses not on the war between the people but on the struggle between the political systems. De Antonio’s approach to the war is the following: he wants to show that the actions of the business leaders and politicians but not the citizens of Vietnam led to this war. The motion picture Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1987), has another attitude to the war and tries to illustrate the struggle on the inside. Thus, he focuses on the experience of combat troops and the lives of the military but not on the political systems. Therefore, two dissimilar approaches allow the viewers to learn about the war from different perspectives and comprehend it better. Although the USA did not have to rule the Vietnam War but only had to assist them, they managed to involve their soldiers in the fighting, and it made of them the enemies for the Vietnamese and the victims of the war, which is illustrated in the films.

The motion picture Full Metal Jacket consists of two parts. The first part begins with the description of the young men who wants to participate in the war and fight with the enemies. First, they are ordinary people with different characters: some of them are kind; the others like to joke, someone wants to murder. Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a good-natured and addicted to sweets young man, who cannot cope with the tasks of the Sergeant (R. Lee Ermey). However, their Sergeant wants to turn the ranks into metal machines, which would kill people without hesitation. His methods are cruel and offensive. As a result, Private Pyle becomes a tough killer and shoots his Sergeant and then – himself. This moment is symbolical since it shows that not every person can adjust to the war, and not every person can save his/her humanity and morality during the wartime. Thus, the scene becomes a transition to the main part of the film – the Vietnam War.


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The second part of the movie is focused on the fighting and the experience of the marines. They are described as completely different people, without any humanity. They become insane killers who kill even children and women. Those, who are not crazy at the beginning, change during the war. Besides, they begin to enjoy this life. For instance, Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis) says, “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting” (Kubrick, 1987). The viewers can understand that Crazy Earl does not pretend to be crazy because he is really mad and addicted to this job. Only the protagonist, Jocker, does not lose his humanity, although he is forced to kill at the end of the film. Nevertheless, his action is merciful since he does not want the woman-sniper to suffer and hastens her unavoidable death.

The main theme of Full Metal Jacket can be understood from the title, which is allegorical. The wartime turns human beings into metal machines who replace their cloaks of humaneness with “full metal jackets.” The second half of the movie shows the war experience of such machines. Men come to the war to fight against their enemies. However, when they see it with their eyes and participate in it, they cannot understand who the enemy is and who is a friend. Their authorities tell them that they have to fight against the Communists, but they often notice that they struggle with those people who need their help. The Vietnamese often fight against the Americans as if they are their enemies but not the helpers. Thus, Kubrick wants to point out that the aim of the war is incomprehensible. The marines are there to kill but they cannot understand why and whom they have to kill. One can consider that the depiction of the war is symbolical since the Americans fight not for their land but for something they do not know. However, the global power of the USA does its part and convinces them that the war is necessary.

When penetrating the meaning of the film deeper and comparing it to the documentary In the Year of the Pig, one can notice that the American business leaders and politicians create the nation of the South Vietnam so that there are some people to fight for. The citizens of Vietnam, who live there, do not need such freedom. The viewers can see that all the marines are Americans, and they kill innocent Vietnamese for nothing. It is obvious that the citizens of Vietnam do not want the foreigners to stay in their country and want to turn them out. One of such people is the prostitute. She is a woman; she sleeps with all those Americans for five dollars, and no one can suspect her of being the enemy. The viewers first see her when the second half of the movie begins. She approaches Joker and his photographer, and the words “you’ve been a messing where you shouldn’t have been a messing” reveal the political situation there (Kubrick, 1987). The song “These Boots are Made for Walking” is also symbolical since it is sung by a woman and it suggests that the male soldiers can become victims again. First, they are victims of the cruel attitude of their Sergeant, and now, they are opposed by the prostitute. Such ending is unexpected. It shows the sexual power of a woman, who manage to cheat men and prove that not only men but also women can be powerful and influential. Although the men kill her in the end, her strength is obvious.

The movie ends with a Mickey Mouse song, which is considered as irony and a symbol of the USA simultaneously. First, a cheerful song at the end of the fighting is ironical. It symbolizes the end of childhood and innocence and the beginning of the adulthood. Second, the men (cats) catch the mouse (sniper) and bring as a symbol of freedom to the USA. While almost all the soldiers are fighting for fun and with the excitement, Joker does not kill before that moment, and his single shot turns him into a different man.

The documentary In the Year of the Pig is a film about political systems, which led to the Vietnam War. First, the American politicians claim, “We are sending planes but not pilots. We are not sending the combat troops” (De Antonio, Attlee, Schell, & Morrone, 1968). However, the American soldiers are sent there, and they serve as the war-machines, who fight for the independence of Vietnam. The documentary recounts the interviews with the congressional representatives, politicians, and other experts, such as Senator Morton, Paul Mus, Jean Lacouture, etc. They try to explain the American involvement in the war, discharging or blaming them for it. They send the American combat troops, which are shown as “determined and reverent […] bloody good bunch of killers” (Attlee et al., 1968). Thus, in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick makes no mistake when he depicts soldiers as killers without souls. They live among the Vietnamese, eat their food, sleep with their women, and then kill them and ruin their houses – all these scenes can be noticed in the documentary. As a result, the country is destroyed but there are no winners.

Interestingly, one interviewer says, “maybe what we’ve been doing in Vietnam all along is an exercise in… the arrogance of power” (De Antonio et al., 1968). These words symbolize the global power of the USA and hint at De Antonio’s anti-war attitude. He wants to convince the audience that the war is useless since it is a political struggle but not the fight for the people’s rights. Besides, the director reveals the power of the American media. According to Waugh (1985), “Year of the Pig is an analysis of the media’s role in legitimizing the politics of imperialism and monopoly capitalism” (p. 253). After watching the documentary, one can make certain of its influential effect.

The 1960s are the years of changes in Hollywood filmmaking (“The History of the Hollywood Movie Industry,” 2015). First, Hollywood does not make the movies about the Vietnam War since the United States shows its negative side in the conflict. However, in the 1980s, when the situation calmed down, the movie production continued its development (Donovan, 2008, p. 139). Such heroes as Rambo, Terminator, and Chuck Norris’ Col. Braddock appear in the movies (Donovan, 2008, p. 139). Since the Americans and other nations are disappointed with the USA’s interference in the Vietnam War and the whole American culture, Hollywood filmmakers use this time to take greater risks and reveal the new, often forbidden themes. They begin to show violence, sex, and war from a new perspective. American action heroes are fighters for freedom and justice. Besides, the American heroes do not need anything from the East. For instance, one of the action protagonists tells to his Vietnamese opponent when the man wants to fight using karate, “Don’t give me any of that Oriental martial garbage” (Donovan, 2008, p. 139). Instead of it, the filmmakers show tanks, weapons, ammunition, bombs, and guns, which are produced by the USA. Many films are focused on the theme of meaningless of this war. They depict the American soldiers as real heroes who are sent to the war because they are said to be there in spite of the absence of good reason for fighting. The motion picture Full Metal Jacket is among the films, which successfully represents the American marines in the Vietnam War.

Both movies use different approaches to the depicting of the Vietnam War. The Full Metal Jacket is mostly aimed to look inside the fighting and explain the nonsense of the struggle. It shows how the war has broken humane men and turned them into killers who are “born to kill” but not to love (Kubrick, 1987). De Antonio depicts the war from a different perspective, focusing on the political side of the warfare. He tries to reveal his anti-war attitude and shows the global power of the USA. The documentary provides many historical facts, which illustrate the combat troops as the destroyers of the Vietnamese land. The citizens of Vietnam do not want this war but they are imposed by the USA that Communism is a big terror, and it is necessary to overcome it. As a result, after suffering huge losses, the war ends with no winners. Both the American soldiers and the Vietnamese become the victims of the struggle between the politicians and business leaders, which is illustrated in the discussed movies.

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