5 July 2004 | gut-6
Fantastic - ignore the criticisms
This superb film was a big improvement on Kubrick's previous film, The Shining. It is a far more confronting spectacle than the poetic, stylised violence of A Clockwork Orange, despite the latter's notoriety. The brutality of FMJ is unceasing.
While the war scenes may seem pointless and directionless, this film more than any other war film I have seen captures the small-scale and scrappy nature of urban warfare. There is no grand narrative from the point of view of the individual unit or the individual soldier - just lots of snipers and corpses and skirmishes over ruined buildings. These individual skirmishes have no obvious strategic value and no obvious relationship to one another or to the world war against communist imperialism. They may be fighting for freedom, but the soldiers are motivated by other things - camaraderie, macho posturing and the urge to kill instilled in them at boot camp.
I cannot understand those who criticise this Kubrick film above others for consisting of multiple episodes with very different feel and setting. It appears such people have never seen Kubrick's other films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange or Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory or Lolita. Indeed, 2001: A Space Odyssey is even more disjointed than FMJ, not even having common characters between the segments. The films are no less brilliant for it. This is a consequence of the way that Kubrick worked, as revealed in "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures" and Fred Raphael's admittedly unreliable "Eyes Wide Open". In Kubrick's view a movie was ready to be made when he had 7 or 8 episodes to string together. Often you can see the joins. Kubrick's legendary perfectionism arose from the fact that he didn't know what he wanted, only what he didn't want. Hence the voluminous research, the continuous script rewrites, the endless prop redesigns, the dozens of takes (all for petty and arbitrary reasons if he gave reasons at all) until by chance someone came up with a great idea. Only then would he move on. All this is why the greatness of Kubrick's films lies in the sum of the brilliant parts rather than the whole.
FMJ fits right in to Kubrick's oeuvre. There is the ongoing theme of dehumanisation, the cynical world view, the hilarious black humour, the cold, distant and unsympathetic characters, the key use of pre-existing music, and the central role of war and conflict. Yet again, and very much like Werner Herzog he makes the surreal seem utterly believable, and reality seem surreal.
For those who say there are better anti-war films, Kubrick said himself he was making a war film, not an anti-war film. He was trying to show the full picture, and leaving it to the audience to judge. The dehumanisation and brutality of boot camp, the moral ambiguity of the war and the vanity, crassness & questionable mental stability of some of the American soldiers is shown unsparingly, but so is the uncompromising barbarity of the communist enemy. You understand why the soldiers need the dehumanising training they are given. Animal Mother may indeed be an Animal Mother, but when it comes to the crunch he is clear-headed, effective and fiercely loyal to his comrades, and even musters a grudging sympathy for the dying sniper in acceding to Joker's humane despatching of her.
All in all, an unforgettable film, totally different in feel to any other war movie I have seen. There is no glorification, no demonisation, and no redemption, but also no simplistic pacifist platitudes and despite everything, great beauty in the hellish ruins.