Paths of Glory - Ageless Anti-war Assertion

                         There are few movies that might make you feel so angry. May be I have never seen one that so quickly and effectively reduced me to the helpless rage that squeezes tears as my hands involuntarily clench into fists. The utter hypocrisy portrayed in this film and the utter dehumanizing unfairness of the entire situation might make you feel that, somewhere a great wrong is being perpetrated against the helpless. Paths of Glory, an anti-war film, is as intellectually harrowing and emotionally effective. It also marks the arrival of the one of the greatest filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century. 

                        Based on Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel, Stanley Kubrick pitilessly evoke the trenches of World War I, western front. The French were so outraged by the portrayal of French army, that they banned this movie from their screens for 18 years. Paths of Glory established the major themes of Kubrick's cinema, like the dehumanization and absurdity of violence. Kubrick studied the vast chessboard of war and dismissed it as a game only fools would play. Nowhere did he make this clearer than in in this movie about military madness.  

        The story begins in September 1916 , centering on the weary 701st infantry regiment, now extinguished by months of brutal battle. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is the leader of the battalion of French soldiers manning the trenches. General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), the corps commander, who wants a public relations coup and decides to order General Mireau (George Macready) to have his troops attack and take a German position known as the Ant Hill. 

            The mission is impossible, but Mireau wants a promotion, so he orders Dax to lead his men on the suicide mission. Colonel Dax thinks that the idea sounds insane. Regardless, Dax is in no position to decline Mireau's directive. His men will charge to their likely doom. When the suicidal operation ends in inevitable retreat the same Generals decide to set an example for others. A atrocious decision that brings former defense lawyer Colonel Dax into conflict with his superior officers.   

                 Paths of Glory was the first one to solidify the Kubrickian formulas: Summation of Man, with ambition leads or equals to folly, and man plus power leads to absurdity. There's a near mathematical logic to the scenario. Kubrick is quoted in the book The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick as saying that war is “one of the few remaining situations where men speak up for what they believe to be their principles.”   Kubrick’s comment shows how the present-day wars afford only those at the highest levels of command to speak up. The rest of the players are compelled to attempt and doomed to fail at idealized dream scenarios of victory.

                Like Kubrick’s most films, Paths of Glory is a true testament to the director’s masterful conception of how to use camera movement to draw us into the story. Cinematographer George Krause deserves credit for some of the most harrowing and well-photographed battle sequences in history. When Kubrick really takes us out onto the battlefield-- a pocked wasteland rimmed with barbed wire and smoking corpses--it is as powerful a damnation of war as has ever been committed to celluloid, a precursor to the horrors of Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998). 

               Adolphe Menjou and George Macready as Mireau is suitably grotesque but never a caricature. Their performances on the screen are like machine-gun fire directed at you. However the film's conscious is Kirk Douglas' Colonel Dax, and idealist and troublemaker caught between his men and his superiors. Douglas' performance is captivating, leads with his chin and perfectly personifies the rage I felt during the film.  The other standout character is Ralph Meeker's Cpl. Philipe Paris, who plays one of the soldiers chosen to be punished for his general's crimes. His awareness of the corruption inherent in the proceedings is devastating, and he elicits natural - not heroic- sympathy. 

              Kubrick fashions an emotional finale where rowdy French troops in a café are quenched by the gentle singing of a frightened German girl (Susanne Christian, who would later marry Kubrick) hauled onstage against her will. It is nothing more than a suggestion that, however brutal and ugly the world may be, we are all still human and have some kind of common ground on which we can meet. It may not stop a war or injustices, but it is a reminder that the sins we carry on against each other are not a integral part, but rather chosen. 

             Even though the movie was critically acclaimed by most reviewers when first released, the film was not a commercial success. However, "Paths of Glory" has continuously been shown on TV, university courses and many American directors (such as Scorsese, Spielberg) have expressed their admiration and have been influenced by this work.             

             The 87-minute Paths Of Glory seems to make a timeless argument against war; and, as in most Kubrick films it is not dated, in fact, it seems to get better with age. This film will serve as a devastating body-blow to the mentality that must win wars. 


Paths of Glory - IMDb 


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Brilliant movie and an equally brilliant review. I also loved Kirk Douglas's 'Ace in the Hole' as much as I loved this film :)

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Breathtakingly brilliant... not only the movie but also your insightful review. You reviews does a great justice to Kubrick's masterpiece. One thing that I would like to add is that movie's realistic ending was suggested by Douglas while Kubrick wanted a Hollywood style happy ending, but thank god the common sense prevailed and we were blessed with one of the most realistic endings in the history of cinema. The innocently beautiful lady who sings the poignant song in the end soon went on to become Mrs. Kubrick and remained his wife till Kubrick's death in 1999.

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, Douglas' performance in Ace In The Hole was excellent, especially it had a negative shade to it.

@Murtaza Ali, Thanks for the comment. I have tried my best to provide some perception about this masterpiece. I didn't know that Kubrick wanted a happy ending for this movie. The Hollywood style ending would have ruined the classic status of this movie.

Rajnish said...

I love movies and I love your reviews. Will surely watch this outstanding film.

ArjunaUbacha said...

Nice review of a good movie. As a filmmaker there is so much to learn from his movies.

Arun Kumar said...

@Rajnish, Thank you very much. Give your opinion, once you watched the movie.

@Indiawilds, Thanks for the comment.