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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Jarhead': A Penetrating Antiwar Drama Set During the First Gulf War

Movie poster for the 2005 film Jarhead starring Jake Gyllenhaal

Jarhead (2005) is a penetrating American war drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Anthony "Swoff" Swofford, lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Portrayed as a misfit who has stumbled haphazardly into military service, Swofford comes under the charge of hard-nosed Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who sees potential in Swofford despite repeated infractions.

Deployed to the Arabian Peninsula as a part of "Operation Desert Shield" (later "Operation Desert Storm"), Swofford and his gung-ho unit are disheartened to find themselves stuck in cyclical routine without engaging in first-hand action. Manning their desert encampment, the group drudges through daily training exercises while beleaguered by unwonted boredom—entertaining themselves with various hijinks and transgressions that infuriate Sykes. Only after "Operation Desert Storm" commences and the unit is positioned on the Kuwait border do the soldiers face the prospect of combat—a mission beset by frustration and surrealistic adversity.

Based on the memoir of real-life Gulf War veteran Anthony Swofford and directed by British stage and film director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1917), Jarhead is an upfront depiction of modern warfare in all of its senselessness. The film's antiwar message is delivered from the viewpoint of the unit's callow young servicemen, eager for a level of conflict they are neither prepared for psychologically nor capable of understanding wholly. Striking in its honesty and resounding in its emotional fallout, it's a unique take on military conflict for the informed modern viewer.


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