Most of us would like to think "Gomer Pyle"–Lawrence–in Full Metal Jacket went from a naturally nice guy to a cold-hearted killer. In other words, the Marines turned him from a warm healthy individual to a cold killing machine. But, could it be argued that what drove Gomer crazy was the realization of his true self?
Gomer was probably raised in a protective environment where he indulge being a big baby. He was provided with food, comfort, and simple joys. He was a child in a toy wonderland. But, in the Marines he’s forced to connect with his predatory nature. (Remember that Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy has a nightmare about being in the North Pole with Huskie dogs? Gradually, he turns mean and fights to be head of the pack.)
Of course, human nature is multi-faceted. There are both the warm and tender side AND the brutal and aggressive side. It would be wrong to say human nature is ONLY this as opposed to that. But, Gomer was probably brought up in a family where the aggressive and survivalist side was never nurtured or developed. He grew big and tall but emotionally remained a cuddly baby. It didn’t help that he’s rather dim.
In a way, Gomer changes due to external pressure, especially that of the badass sergeant. But, this process involves something WITHIN Gomer being awakened. It is the brute nature that had remained dormant but had always been there. It is the side of man that is aggressive, ruthless, competitive, and bloodcurdling. It is a genuine part of human nature.
With most guys in the camp, we see a balance between control and aggression. The problem of Gomer is he starts with little control and little aggression. He has little control over his baby-ish appetites. He’s a fatbody, looks like an overgrown child, and can’t control his hunger or even his facial expressions. He also has little aggression because he’s probably been pampered and doted all his life. Eventually, he is brutalized and gains self-control. And, the aggressive and ruthless side of him is cracked open, and Gomer finally turns into a bona-fide killing machine. But, the process was so traumatic that he ultimately cannot absorb the shocks. He goes crazy. He cannot maintain the balance between aggression and control.
Others do much better, but not much better if we think about it. The Gomer-infantile-killer-syndrome theme is picked up later. Recall how the soldiers sing Mickey Mouse at the end of the movie. And, Joker’s friend turns totally infantile freako after the Viet Cong assassin girl is killed. It’s as though the Marine Corp turn boys into men but also men into boys. The military makes boys put away toy guns... and places in their hands... real guns... which are toys too, if you think about it. So, in a way, War is like Disney Land where people get hurt for real... or a movie where people die for real.
There is, indeed, something infantile about our love of war movies. Sure, we say it’s all about honoring servicemen, sacrifice, patriotism, and etc. But, isn’t a big part of the appeal just to see things get blown up real good? Don’t we enjoy war movies in the way that kids enjoy playing war games? Movies, no matter how ‘serious’, are all make-believe anyway. Make-believe or not, we sure love to play.
We generally distinguish play-acting from the real thing, but could it be said play-acting is the real thing as practice, and the real thing is play-acting for real?
Just look at cats. Cats are always playing, and we think it’s cute. But, cat play is always based on fighting and hunting. It’s like what David Mamet, another Jew like Kubrick, understands so well. Take a film like "House of Games" where the games are for real. The Play is the Thing.