[SPOILER WARNING] I had a chance to see a pre-screening of Jarhead last night, and I don’t think I’ll ever look at a Santa hat the same way again. More on that later.
My first thought after seeing the movie was that Jake Gyllenhaal has chosen two movies this season, Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead, that have taken conventional movie genres, the Western and the war movie, and turned them on their heads.
In its conception, Jarhead is miles from that other Desert Shield movie, Three Kings. People who go to Jarhead thinking they are going to see a movie about war with lots of bombs, actions scenes, and killing, may be disappointed, because Jarhead is for the most part a movie about loneliness. It’s a movie about expectations and isolation, and the psychological torture that can accompany those things.
Peter Sarsgaard recently told Dark Horizons: “I think what’s interesting about the movie is that these guys get all pumped up to kill and then they go and they just sit there and you don’t ever think like that’s a casualty of war, too. You think a casualty of war is watching your friend get shot. It certainly is. Or shooting someone else. And it certainly is. But I think what’s interesting about this movie is it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s assume you didn’t see any combat, it still will change your life forever and in some ways that you might not be to happy about.’ It opened my eyes to that.”
In Jarhead, much of the psychological torture comes because of not seeing combat.
Sam Mendes has shot a gorgeous film. The burning oil field scenes are as beautiful and apocalyptic as any I’ve seen. I was particularly stunned by one scene in which a horse covered in black oil wanders out of the smoky darkness and finds Swofford (Gyllenhaal) making his way across the desert. To me it really exemplified much of the suffering that goes on with relation to a war, suffering that goes on alone, suffering we never hear about.
Back to the Santa hat. For those of you Jake fans, there are scenes where the soldiers are partying in which Swofford’s privates are covered only by a Santa hat — extended scenes of Gyllenhaal’s bare backside, and a hot shower scene in which he goes full frontal. Granted, the scene is very shadowy, but you can definitely see that Mr. G is not lacking in that department. Nude and half-nude testosterone-charged Marines are simply one element of this film’s gorgeous palette.
Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx stand out in the film, although their stories are never fully fleshed out. I give props to a great supporting cast as well. The main criticism I can make of the film is that it doesn’t properly reach a climax. Its meditative, amorphous progression never fully leads to anything — but perhaps that’s part of the point. It’s definitely the source of the frustration for the Marines in this corner of the war, ever eager to “kill something” and never given the opportunity.
Jarhead opens November 4.