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Welcome to the suck.

Sam Mendes' Jarhead is going to be raked over the coals. It is going to be stacked up against films like Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now, and it is going to pale in comparison.

That is, it will fail to measure up if those doing the measuring are thinking solely in terms of the Vietnam War, and all of the tropes and imagery that goes along with it, whether from cinema or news footage or documentary films.

The point here isn't to offend. It isn't to stoke fires that need not be stoked. There is a tremendous amount of respect held for those who serve their Country, so these thoughts are not meant as an affront to anyone who serves, has served, or plans to serve in the future.

Based upon interpretation alone, the fascination with Vietnam and all of its trappings stems from the mess that was made of the whole ordeal both on U.S. soil and overseas. Films like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now peered into the souls of men who stared the war in the eyes and were changed forever. Nothing will ever compare to the imagery of Colonel Kilgore's men securing a beachfront to Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries, for the sole purpose of good surf. The hypocrisy of the war was fleshed out and explored without answers. The backdrop was death and the canvas used was napalm and destruction along the jungle skylines.

Kubrick's film is slightly more akin to Mendes' in that his Private Joker is exposed to the psychological damage engrained into the minds of troops prior to deployment before tackling the wanton and raging devastation that served as byproducts of the war.

The jarheads Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) describes grew up on films such as these. Serving their country didn't factor in the duality of war, it simply meant amounting to something. Instead, they idolize what their training allows them to, mimicking the actions of characters in Apocalypse Now's famous beachside blitzkrieg the night before deployment. It is convenient that the film is cut off by superior officers before the more critical aspects of the surfing battalion come onscreen.
Because Santahead sounded gay.

Swofford reads Camus' The Stranger, which details the senseless killing of an Arab, yet another misinterpretation of misappropriated violence and bloodshed. He is educated and capable of seeing the inherent dilemma he has placed himself in, yet he is there anyways, waiting day by day for a chance to do the job that he signed on to do. Each day that goes by, the anticipation for what was assumed to be inevitable grows to an almost consuming size, and with this stress comes new complications.

Early on, these jarheads appear to be a fraternity of sorts, a group of guys anticipating a weekend trip to the desert filled with villains in their crosshairs, with the promise of a quick return and speedy victory. Their antics are jovial to the point of antagonizing their superior officer, Sgt. Seik (Jamie Foxx). Soon, the fear of isolation sets in, and the marines are contemplating the faithfulness of those left behind. A wall of shame is erected, where photos of adulterous wives and girlfriends are chronicled as they arrive in "Dear John" letters, equipped with photos and betrayals alike.

The theme of betrayal runs deep in Mendes' Jarhead, not just by those left behind, but by country, by ideals, and by unsaid promises left unfulfilled. As Swofford battles with news that implies that his girlfriend Christina is destined to join others on the wall of shame, other jarheads are greeted with care packages baring far more significant forms of betrayal. The fact that one wife alerts her husband of her infidelity by dubbing a video of her philandering with the next door neighbor over a copy of his favorite film, Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, points to more than mere coital betrayal.

It is likely that Sam Mendes' film will go overlooked and underappreciated, and it is even more likely that this film, in its subtle and subdued ways, will ultimately piss off a great deal of people expecting a bullets-a-blazing war film. Hopefully, those who step into the theaters this Friday will be open enough to giving Jarhead a chance.


Mario Anima

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