There really isn’t anything glorious about war!
Screenplay By: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson, & Calder Willingham
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Antiwar movies are very hard to make because the action and vitality of war in and of itself is appealing to a lot of people. People get caught up in the action, the explosions and the violence and forget that what they are watching is supposed to be a scathing remark against war, not a fun thrill ride through the battles of war. In Paths of Glory Stanley Kubrick has managed to make a remarkable antiwar film. Even the action scenes are muddied and dark, never allowing the viewer to settle in and think that what they are seeing is fun. Where others have tried and failed, or have had their visions taken the wrong way, Mr. Kubrick has succeeded in a movie that can’t be seen as anything but antiwar.
Paths of Glory isn’t about the soldiers who get killed, it is about how futile they are and how they may fight the war against one another, but it is the far off Generals that actually run the war. Those Generals make the decisions that lead countless soldiers to their deaths and without stepping foot on the field of battle they can label soldiers who retreat as cowards to be killed. They don’t do this out of pride for country or love for their fellow man, they do this because of the promotion they may get or the effect the battle may have on their path to personal glory. The actions of the Generals in Paths of Glory are reprehensible, and I’m not about to pigeonhole every General that ever lived into the same category, but Paths Of Glory does present a bleak outlook on the men who wear the rank of General.
The most touching and depressing scene in Paths of Glory is the final one in the pub. It’s not for the exploitation of the German girl or the deplorable behavior of the French soldiers. That scene is both touching and depressing because it highlights in one fell swoop the ties that bring humanity together and the strife that tears them apart. A song so serene and a woman so beautiful is their enemy, not because they think she is the enemy or the song is evil but because they have been told she is the enemy and a common dog while the song is tripe. War doesn’t treat people as human beings, it treats them as commodities to be used in power plays and Paths of Glory is at its most scathing when it showcases this fact.
For all its greatness there were a few things holding Paths of Glory back. Most obvious would be the English accents of the actors. It wasn’t jarring, but it was hard to get into the mindset that you are watching a movie about the French army when every character speaks with a thick English accent. In an otherwise excellent group of actors I felt that George Macready was a bit too willing and overzealous to be evil and to be power hungry. Small and minor quibbles, but faults nonetheless.
Paths of Glory is the antiwar movie you need to see if you want to see an antiwar movie done right. Paths of Glory is a war movie you need to see, it is a Stanley Kubrick film you need to see. Paths of Glory is a movie you need to see period.