Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film Full Metal Jacket (1987) dramatically represents US Marine Corps basic training during the Vietnam War as both gruelling and brutalising. The brutal, linguistically aggressive and physically intimidating scenes purport to detail the dehumanising process that Marine Corps recruits were put through in preparation for combat during that period. In the film, the recruits are trained by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, played by the actor R. Lee Ermey, who is himself an ex-Marine Corps drill instructor (1965-1967) and who also served in Vietnam in 1968. As a result of his experience as an instructor, Ermey was given free rein by Kubrick to write his own dialogue for the abusive barrack room and field training scenes in order to lend the drama an air of authenticity. Within the fictional world of the film, the intense training and disciplinary regime ultimately causes one recruit, Private Leonard Lawrence, to crack psychologically. Private Lawrence is nicknamed ‘Gomer Pyle’ by Hartman upon their first meeting, this name being a direct allusion to the hapless character of the same name who was a US Marine recruit in the sitcom Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., which ran from 1964-1969 - contemporaneously with the time period in which Full Metal Jacket is set). This insulting allusion is merely the start of a long line of linguistically impolite/aggressive and ultimately physically aggressive interactions which Lawrence/Pyle suffers at the hands of Hartman, both directly and, later in the film as a result of Hartman’s orchestrations, by the other recruits. Under this unrelenting barrage of impoliteness, aggression, and abuse, Lawrence/Pyle eventually shoots Hartman dead before turning his rifle on himself and committing suicide. Thus, the film argues that the dehumanising effect of the basic training, which was ostensibly carried out to toughen up and mentally prepare conscripted recruits for combat in Vietnam, had a profound, brutalising and (potentially) utterly destructive effect on those subjected to it. In this article, we explore the creative linguistic aggression displayed by the character of Hartman. We focus particularly on the reasons underlying the creativity of Hartman’s impoliteness and aggression, and argue that these are essentially to foreground the seriousness of the training regime which the recruits must follow.
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- Department of History, English, Linguistics and Music - Professor
- Institute for Applied Linguistics - Director
- Stylistics Research Centre - Member
- Secure Societies Institute - Associate Member
- Centre for History, Culture and Memory
- School of Arts and Humanities