Film & TV

Full Metal Jacket's Matthew Modine on Working With Kubrick and Movie Conspiracy Theories

O Cinema's mini-Kubrick Film Festival, "Stanley Kubrick: The Man & His Movies," has made a last-minute addition to its participants. Matthew Modine, the lead actor in the iconic director's 1987 Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket, and more recently seen in The Dark Knight Rises, will appear via Skype for a Q&A following the movie.

Though he is currently immersed in filming a movie at an undisclosed location, he had no problem putting aside some time to discuss one of the most important roles of his career after its rare theatrical revival tomorrow night at O Cinema's Wynwood location.

"Give, give, give. And when there is nothing left to give, give some more," the 54-year-old actor writes via email. "This was the advice of my acting teacher, Stella Adler. Her students learned about how life can beat you down and crush the soul. But art was the gift that reminds us that we have one."

See also:
- Room 237 's Best Theories, and a Very Kubrick Week at O Cinema

Only last year, Modine had a chance to look back at his two years making the film with Kubrick, when he released an app version of his comprehensive behind-the-scenes book, Full Metal Jacket Diary. "I don't feel that close to the 25-year-old young man that kept the diary," he states. "So, it was very subjective and funny to read about 'his' struggles and fears. What is revealed during the journey is that the ultimate discovery for an artist is the discovery of 'self.' The revelation and realization of your own uniqueness is what life is all about. The surprise is that Kubrick was -- at his age -- still discovering who he was. So he and I were on parallel journeys."

But there was no doubt Kubrick was in charge on set, as he was well-known as a calculating director whose only equal was probably Orson Welles (and even then, Kubrick may have left behind the more impressive filmography had he not died of heart failure in 1999). Despite pervasive chatter that Kubrick had an eccentric personality (he had a fear of flying and did not like riding in fast cars, go some of the misconceptions), his charisma on set was magnetic for many actors who worked with him.

"Stanley was incredibly charismatic," says Modine. "He was one of those very rare people you meet that is both incredibly bright and an artist that is remarkably gifted. Creative genius is one of the most powerful gifts a human can possess. Da Vinci, Picasso, Beethoven, Brando, The Beatles -- history is peppered with creative geniuses, endlessly fascinating characters that change our perceptions and enlighten our existence."

"I cannot compare my experience with Stanley with any other director," continues Modine. "Not because I have not worked with equally wonderful, smart, powerful, creative directors, not at all. I cannot compare Stanley with others because of the amount of time we spent together making the film: Nearly two years. Most films are completed within two or three months. The time spent with Stanley is incomparable to the experiences I have had with other filmmakers, not to mention the mentorship and education about screenwriting, cameras, and most importantly, life lessons I garnered from the experience."

As with many of Kubrick's films, Full Metal Jacket initially received mixed reviews upon release. Many divided it in half, preferring the first hour featuring a star turn by Vincent D'Onofrio as a recruit who never fits in during boot camps opposed to the more slippery ironic experiences on the battlefield that cap off the film. Though the boot camp side captured the suffocating destruction of a man's soul not made for war, the rest of the film takes that notion further, in a much more complex manner. "The film is actually divided into three chapters," explains Modine. "Each chapter ends with a 'fade to black' (and of course the film ends with the Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black'). Stanley called me to discuss the reviews and how some critics had divided the film into two parts. Then he read me what he said was a sentence from one of his favorite reviews. 'The first half of FMJ is brilliant. Then the film degenerates into a masterpiece.' 'That's good writing,' he said."

This Kubrick retrospective will culminate in a screening of Room 237, a documentary that humors eight obsessives of Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining. Director Rodney Ascher got these people to narrate a montage of images from the film and other Kubrick movies while rambling on about conspiratorial notions that explain the film's "meaning." One man says it is actually about the Holocaust while another argues it's really about the genocide of Indians during the conquest of the Americas by Europeans. One more concludes the only way to decipher the film is by playing it forward and backward simultaneously and projecting the images overlapping one another.

With all Kubrick masterpieces, legendary myths pervade, and Full Metal Jacket is not immune to conspiracy theories. One that haunts it was that Kubrick planted a monolith from his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey in the background of a scene featuring the slow death of one of the movie's key characters. "What can I say about this?" writes Modine after I show him a link to the scene in question. "Well, it also looks like one of the Twin Towers after it had been struck by an airplane. Perhaps Kubrick was clairvoyant and pre-visioned 9/11? The scene with Cowboy dying was lit with fire. Stanley needed to have the fire coming from something that could appear to be burning. The cement column was one of many at the Beckton Gas Works location and was the ideal place to place the fire at because it wouldn't actually burn and create a fire hazard on the film set. What more can I say about it ... Some people see the Virgin Mary on their toast."

Full Metal Jacket screens one-night only at Miami's O Cinema, Tuesday, April 9, at 7 p.m. followed by a conversation with Matthew Modine. For information on Kubrick: The Man & His Movies visit

To learn more about Modine's personal experiences with Kubrick, download his new
Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app at

Writer Hans Morgenstern, the author of this story, will lead a discussion on 2001: A Space Odyssey this Wednesday, April 10, at 7 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @indieethos.

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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.