#60: Paths of Glory (1957)

When and how did I watch this?

January 7th, 2016, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Kubrick film about World War I, starring the paternal clone of Michael Douglas.

What do I know about it now?

It seems that most American films in the 50s glorified the US role in military conflicts.  The only exception from this era, so far, has been The Best Years of Our Lives, which was done at an incredibly close proximity to World War II.  This might be what makes the 50s era anti-war film Paths of Glory so stunning to me. But it would be unfair to categorize a film like this, because Kubrick treats the Great War with such disdain and literally allows the soldiers to bleed over and over again to communicate that “war is bad”. Kubrick doesn’t pat you on the head, though.  He makes you think about it, with drawn-out scenes, very human cries for help, and endless injustice despite the good guy’s best efforts. We’re introduced to war almost immediately; as soldiers line up for orders in the trenches, artillery shells explode around them without ceasing.  We run right alongside the men, unable to see the enemy (as they likely are) as they charge toward the German front — again, artillery unrelenting. The charge was hopeless from the start, but the film continues into a courtroom as three men — picked at random — are charged and tried for cowardice on the battlefield after the failed attack. Dax (Douglas) attempts to make human appeals, but the court rebuffs them all. We hope for a loophole in the end, but none comes, and the accused’s fates are sealed. We hope that something changes; we hope that someone else like Dax softens their heart, but none do. I was enamored by the battlefield sound — the droning, constant artillery shower — and the cold reverberation of the court martial trial. Not to say I was pleased, for there was nothing pleasing about this brutally honest film.

What are some themes in the film?

Justice, war, fate, death

Did this affect me personally?

Yes.  The battle scene was difficult, along with the emotional closing scenes.

Why is this ranked #60?

Since the 50s, we’ve warmed up to the idea of war not being glorified.  Vietnam certainly didn’t help.  This is one of Kubrick’s best films; it’s tidy and compact, and people respect that.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She watched some of it, but not intently.

Would I watch it again?

Doubtful. It’s a difficult film.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Yes.  It is too important to overlook.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Indeed.  The film is brief and highly efficient, yet communicates its purpose with lurid effectiveness. Raw human emotion courses through every facet of the film, illustrating fear, disillusionment, apathy, fatigue, and the absence of morality altogether. Kubrick’s genius is on display here. It’s not quite The Deer Hunter, but it rattles you enough to wish this part of history never occurred, and that the men never left the inn in the end, that they continued humming the tune indefinitely, blissfully ignorant of what fate awaited them.

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