“Jarhead” is the mirror reflecting our society. “Every war is different; every war is the same.” This is the comment made by the protagonist of “Jarhead,” Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), who joins the marines out of a lack of options.
“Jarhead,” which is based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Anthony Swofford, gives an in-depth look into the life of marines.
Swofford goes from being a regular twenty-year old guy to being a marine. The story is told using a first person narrative with a voiceover that allows the audience to see war through the eyes of Swofford.
After enlisting in the marines, Swofford joins the elite sniper rifle unit where he encounters Staff Sergeant Sykes, played by Jamie Foxx, who provides a foil for Swofford’s experience.
From here it is off to Kuwait to wait for a war. In Kuwait, the film explores the psychological tension the marines experience while living outside of normality. This includes the loss of relationships back home. Overall, the time spent in the camp conveys the constant tension and anxiety that is felt before war.
When the war finally happens, Swofford, being in the sniper unit, never even gets to fire a gun. This shows that modern warfare has gone beyond the use of guns to ways of killing humans even more en masse.
The plot of “Jarhead” is not traditional in formula. “Jarhead” lingers at moments in order to allow the audience to soak up the intensity of the experience of being at war. It is the moments in the film, before the war, that make this film so incredible. It is the experience of watching this group of normal guys adjust to a life at the edge of death.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance as a newcomer to this world. With just one look at Swofford’s eyes, the audience witnesses his struggle to be a marine.
His performance is well complemented by the cast around him. Peter Sarsgaard, who plays another marine named Troy, brings an amazing performance as a somewhat minor character that is sure to win him an Oscar. Jamie Foxx, who plays Staff Sergeant Sykes, is the glue that holds the cast together.
Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), the director of the film, manages to generate the feel of a documentary without all the rough edges.
The entire film is a pressure valve that is about to burst. The pressure is relieved for the audience with the added humor in many scenes.
Another pressure reliever is the music, which in its lightness provides a way for the audience to bear watching the horrible conditions in front of them. The film feels like a combination of “Full Metal Jacket” in its portrayal of war and “Apocalypse Now” in its view of the psychological effects of war.
The cinematography portrays both the vastness of the desert landscape and the roughness of the oil as it hits the soldiers’ faces. One of the most compelling scenes of the film is when Swofford is walking into the burning oil field and a horse approaches, covered in oil. It is in this scene that the audience sees that Swofford is no more powerful then this horse walking in the field.
Without using words, the film conveys the message that we need to get out of Iraq and that we need to get out of the business of war altogether. It is the indirectness of its message that makes this film so powerful. It relies on the audience to come to its own conclusions.
The film manages to present both sides of war: as an economic means to an end and as a way of survival for countries.
“Jarhead” is an incredible film. It will open your eyes to the reality of war in a way that cannot be ignored. It will challenge whether you believe that our presence in Iraq is wrong or right. It will push you to evaluate your own existence and the purpose of your own life.