Jarhead (Nov., 2005)
I blew it. And I must apologize to all the Marines who read my
Jarhead column in the newspapers in early November.
I confused "Hoo-Ah" (the Army shout of choice) with "Oo-Rah,"
the Marine cry.
I got numerous emails on the mistake, the great majority of them
friendly. So, I hereby grovel to all you Marines, and offer you
my amended column. "Oo-Rah!"
Jarhead: The Few, The Proud, The Profane
By Cathy Schultz, 11/2/05
The Few. The Proud.
The really, really foul-mouthed.
Okay, that last line isn't part of the Marine slogan. But it did
cross my mind while watching Jarhead, the searing, often savagely
funny look at Marines during Operation Desert Storm.
Based on Anthony Swofford's fierce memoir, Jarhead is not
so much a study of Desert Storm as it is a study of Marine culture
and the men who embrace it-sometimes reveling in it, sometimes despising
And always, always cursing their way through it.
Q. Oh, come on. Do Marines really curse any more than those
serving in the Army, Navy, or Air Force?
A. I watched this film, read Swofford's memoir, and spoke with a
number of Marine veterans.
The consensus among Marines?
Yes, they are the crudest and most foul-mouthed of the bunch. And
they're *bleeping* proud of it. Oo-rah.
Q. 'Oo-rah' is heard a lot in the film. What does it mean?
A. It's similar to the Army's cry of "Hu-Ahh!" which apparently
derived from the acronym HUA, which was used over the radio to mean,
'Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.' Oo-rah has evolved into the all-purpose
Marine response, denoting a 'yes,' a cheer, a greeting, a grunt.
It can apparently signify just about everything except 'no.'
Q. Why 'Jarhead?'
A. It's the self-derogatory nickname Marines have for themselves.
The high and tight haircuts they sport make their heads look like
jars, especially when observed from behind. 'Grunt' is another common
Q. Discussion of sex is constant among these characters. Isn't
this a bit over the top?
A. Well, never having been in the military, I can't say. But it
certainly was the reality for Swofford, and the men with whom he
served. An early scene in the film shows a seventeen-year-old Swofford
being regaled by a Marine recruiter with stories of all the foreign
prostitutes he could score as a Marine.
And apparently, that was just the beginning.
The film suggests that the thoughts and conversations of Marines--at
least those in Swofford's platoon--revolve around all sex, all the
time. They obsess over various things they'd like to do to women,
and obsess even more on the various things their wives and girlfriends
might be doing with other men.
Q. Were Vietnam War movies really their favorite films to watch?
A. Apparently so, and I found this detail fascinating, if unnerving.
The film shows Marines stationed in Saudi Arabia, gleefully cheering
scenes while watching supposedly anti-war films like Platoon
and Apocalypse Now. Scenes which directors Oliver Stone
and Francis Ford Coppola intended to cause revulsion in their viewers
are instead met with raucous, rowdy cheers by Marine audiences.
In the film, Marines cheer the loudest during one of Apocalypse
Now's most chilling scenes-the helicopters dropping napalm on villagers
while booming out Wagner's 'Ride Of The Valkyries' on speakers.
Defying the films' anti-war message, the Marines instead celebrate
the macabre exhilaration of fighting and killing. One has to wonder
if a generation from now, Marines on their way to war will cheer
wildly while watching Jarhead.
Q. At one point, Swofford puts a gun to the head of another
Marine, and then to his own head. Was that just the filmmaker's
A. Swofford pulls no punches in his memoir, especially not in his
description of the young man he was then. Both these chilling events
happened. He neither justifies them, nor adequately explains them.
Q. How accurately is the Persian Gulf War depicted?
A. This is an unusual war movie, in that there are no real battles,
and in fact little actual combat depicted.
But then again, the Persian Gulf War was an unusual war, which
is perhaps more apparent now, two years into a far more difficult
military conflict in Iraq.
The Persian Gulf War was fast-the ground war lasted only four days
and four hours from start to finish. It was an air war, dominated
by overwhelming American firepower. A war in which the traditional
American foot soldiers literally couldn't keep pace with the rapidly
moving front line.
This film is not so much a study of the war, but more a study of
a handful of the Marines who slogged through it. Men who came under
both friendly and unfriendly fire. Who worried lest the war pass
them by too quickly. Who encountered charred Iraqi corpses, and
the burning oil wells of Kuwait.
But who never found a living, breathing enemy whom they could shoot.
Q. What's a good book for more information?
A. Read Swofford's own best-selling book of the same name. It's
not the definitive war memoir, but it's a compelling one.
In the same way, the film, Jarhead, isn't the definitive
film about Desert Storm, much less the definitive war film. And
it certainly won't entice anyone to join the Marines.
But it will create in viewers a grudging respect for Marines, and
for all the men and women we send off to fight for us. Which is,
I think, exactly the kind of reaction author Swofford and director
Sam Mendes would have hoped for.
By Cathy Schultz, Ph.D.
Jarhead - Plot Summary from comingsoon.net:
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard. "Jarhead"
(the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows "Swoff"
(Gyllenhaal), a third-generation enlistee, from a sobering stint
in boot camp to active duty, sporting a sniper's rifle and a hundred-pound
ruck on his back through Middle East deserts with no cover from
intolerable heat or from Iraqi soldiers, always potentially just
over the next horizon. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves
with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields
in a country they don't understand against an enemy they can't see
for a cause they don't fully fathom.
Foxx portrays Sergeant Sykes, a Marine lifer who heads up Swofford's
scout/sniper platoon, while Sarsgaard is Swoff's friend and mentor,
Troy, a die-hard member of STA-their elite Marine Unit.
An irreverent and true account of a war that was antiseptically
packaged a decade ago, "Jarhead" is laced with dark wit,
honest inquisition and episodes that are at once surreal and poignant,
tragic and absurd.
"Jarhead" is based on Marine Anthony Swofford's bracing
memoir that took readers into his disorienting firsthand experience
in the Gulf War.