9. Paths of Glory – Stanley Kubrick, 1957
When exploring film history, you run into a large assortment of anti-war films - none are more devastating and masterfully argued than Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. On reflection, it is odd that Kubrick, cinema's greatest tactical ideologue, could make such a movingly humanistic film as this. Yet, perhaps it was his cerebral approach to cinema that gives this film so much power. The story is, after all, inherently human, and unlike his other films, the ideas he presents have widespread societal implications. So many anti-war films will appeal to emotion and burn down straw-men, but the reserve Kubrick shows with this film allows the atrocities he presents to be both comprehensible and shocking in their baseness. The story pleads for melodrama, but Kubrick does not allow it any, making its tragic elements not simply heartbreaking, but nauseating in their injustice. It is easy to forget a simple argument against pride or bigotry - we all agree those attributes are detestable. It is much harder to dismiss a film that builds emotional ties to its characters while presenting systematic problems with our political systems, arguing succinctly that there is no easy way out.
There is so much more to say about this film - from the terrifying thrills of its tracking shots through the trenches of World War I, to its unflinching documentation of war's political tragedies, to the film's deeply moving and sobering finale, which provides a perfect call to action. As few war films do, not just the brutality of its action, but its arguments stick with you long after viewing.
|Kirk Douglas in his finest role.|
I have to admit that I don’t care much for Kubrick. I find him all brains and no heart, and I find that his films have no emotional center. He generally uses his characters as pawns to make some grand philosophical argument that is cold and detached. So when I first saw Paths of Glory, I approached it with much trepidation, assuming that it would be like other Kubrick films I have seen. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised with how human Paths of Glory is. I immediately latched onto it as Kubrick told a war story about institutions by examining some events in the lives of a handful of common soldiers. Featuring great work by Kirk Douglas as a Colonel caught between following orders and saving lives, it immediately became my favorite Kubrick film, and to this day one of the very few, along with The Shining, that I really like (although, of course, I can see the skill in his other work). It is a fantastic picture – my favorite Kubrick and probably my favorite war film of all time, and I’m delighted you have included it here.