Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 anti-war film directed, co-produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick. It is based on The Short-Timers, a 1979 semi-autobiographical book by Gustav Hasford. Regarded as one of Kubrick's finest later films, most professional critics state that it is among the greatest and most accurate films of its genre. The title of the film refers to the full metal jacket bullet used by infantry rivalmen.
In the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War, a group of new U.S. Marine Corps recruits arrive at Parris Island, South Carolina for basic training. After having their heads shaved, they meet Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) who employs harsh tactics to turn the recruits into combat-ready Marines. Hartman gives each of the recruits nicknames; Private Brown (Peter Edmund) is named "Snowball" for reasons unknown; James T. Davis (Matthew Modine) becomes "Joker" after making a wise-cracking comment behind Hartman's back; Robert Evans (Arliss Howard) earns the name "Cowboy" because he is from Texas; and finally Leonard Lawrence, a 6-foot 3-inch, 280 pound, slow-witted recruit with low intelligence and ambition is named "Gomer Pyle" after incurring the wrath of Hartman, and becomes the focus of the latter's brutality as the overweight boy cannot keep up with the other physically fit recruits in the grueling obstacle course.
Unresponsive to Hartman's discipline, he assigns Joker to become Pyle's personal instructor after promoting him to squad leader. Over the next few days, Joker helps Pyle navigate through the obstacle course, shows him how to operate and clean a rifle, and how to make his bed every night. Pyle improves because of this, however his progress comes to an abrupt halt when, during a routine inspection one night, Hartman discovers that Pyles' foot locker is unlocked. Pyle's situation worsens when Hartman searches the locker and discovers a jelly doughnut hidden inside; food is strictly prohibited in the barracks, and Pyle is not allowed to eat doughnuts because he is overweight.
Believing the recruits are responsible for Pyle's lack of progress, Hartman adopts a new collective punishment policy; every time Pyle messes up, instead of punishing him, he'll punish the rest of the platoon. This setback angers the recruits, and a few nights later, they haze Pyle with a blanket party, restraining him to his bed and beating him with bars of soap wrapped in towels. Although Joker is reluctant to participate, he eventually relents and hits Pyle harder and longer after being pursuaded by Cowboy, who tells Pyle "Remember, it's just a bad dream fat boy!". As Joker lies in his bed and covers his ears, ashamed at what he has done, Pyle howls and cries in pain.
After the traumatic experience, Pyle shapes up and becomes the fastest and best rifleman of the entire platoon. This impresses Hartman, but Joker notices that Pyle is showing signs of mental breakdown ("Section 8"), such as staring blankly into space, talking to his M14 rifle, and not responding to interaction. By the end of basic training, it becomes obvious that Pyle has been completely dehumanized by its rigors.
Following their graduation, Hartman each recruit an MOS (Military Occupational Sevice); Joker is assigned as a 4212 (Basic Military Journalism), while most of the others (including Cowboy and Pyle) are assigned as 0300 (Infantry). During the platoon's final night on Parris Island, Joker draws fire watch (guard patrol) during which he discovers a deranged Pyle in the bathroom loading his rifle with live ammunition. Despite Joker's attempts to calm him down, Pyle begins loudly executing drill commands and recites the rifleman's creed. The noise awakens the platoon and Hartman, with the latter angrily demanding to know why Pyle is out of his bed after lights out, why he is carrying a rifle, and why Joker isn't stopping him. After Joker tells Hartman that Pyle's rifle is fully-loaded, Hartman demands that Pyle surrender the weapon. After Hartman hurls further insults at Pyle when he refuses and does not respond, Pyle fatally shoots Hartman in the chest and then aims the rifle towards Joker. Joker pleads with Pyle, who lowers the rifle and nods, possibly in recognition of Joker as a friend. Pyle then sits on a toilet, places the muzzle of the rifle into his mouth, and commits suicide.
In January 1968, Joker, now a sergeant, is a war correspondent in South Vietnam for Stars and Stripes with Private First Class Rafterman, a combat photographer. Rafterman wants to go into combat, as Joker claims he has done. At the Marine base, Joker is mocked for his lack of the thousand-yard stare, indicating his lack of war experience. They are interrupted by the start of the Tet Offensive as the North Vietnamese Army unsuccessfully attempts to overrun the base.
The following day, the journalism staff is briefed about enemy attacks throughout South Vietnam. Joker is sent to Phu Bai, accompanied by Rafterman. They meet the Lusthog Squad, where Cowboy is now a sergeant. Joker accompanies the squad during the Battle of Huế, where platoon commander "Touchdown" is killed by the enemy. After the Marines declare the area secure, a team of American news journalists and reporters enters Huế and interviews various Marines about their experiences in Vietnam and their opinions about the war.
While patrolling Huế, Crazy Earl, the squad leader, is killed by a booby trap, leaving Cowboy in command. The squad becomes lost and Cowboy orders Eightball to scout the area. A Viet Cong sniper wounds Eightball and the squad medic, Doc Jay, is also wounded while attempting to save him against orders. Cowboy learns that tank support is unavailable and orders the team to prepare for withdrawal. The squad's machine gunner, Animal Mother, disobeys Cowboy and attempts to save his comrades. He discovers there is only one sniper, but Doc Jay and Eightball are killed when Doc Jay attempts to indicate the sniper's location. While maneuvering toward the sniper, Cowboy is shot and killed.
Animal Mother assumes command of the squad and leads an attack on the sniper. Joker discovers the sniper, a teenaged girl, and attempts to shoot her, but his rifle jams and alerts her to his presence. Rafterman shoots the sniper, mortally wounding her. As the squad converges, the sniper begs for death, prompting an argument about whether or not to kill her. Animal Mother decides to allow a mercy killing only if Joker performs it. After some hesitation, Joker shoots her. The Marines congratulate him on his kill as Joker stares into the distance, displaying the thousand-yard stare. The Marines march toward their camp, singing the "Mickey Mouse March". Joker states that despite being "in a world of shit", he is glad to be alive and no longer afraid.
Full Metal Jacket was nominated for eleven awards between 1987 and 1989. These included an Academy Award (and Writers Guild of America Award) for Best Adapted Screenplay, two BAFTA Awards (Best Sound and Best Special Effects), a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (R. Lee Ermey), and Best Foreign Language Film from the Awards of the Japanese Academy. The five won included the Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (awarded by the Boston Society of Film Critics), as well as the London Critics Circle Film Award for Director of the Year and two foreign awards: the David di Donatello Award for Best Producer - Foreign Film and the Kinema Jumpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film Director.