Few directors have the same courage Stanley Kubrick does in making a movie. Kubrick’s films often pack a punch to the viewer and give a criticism on society, using irony and dehumanization as tools to help show the point. Paths of Glory is a pure Kubrick movie as it uses many of his central themes, and certainly one of the director’s best.
Though he broke through the movie world with The Killing, with Paths of Glory Stanley Kubrick became an international celebrity. He shot up to the ranks of directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman, and I argued he even surpassed them with his further films. Kubrick is the only director who has really mastered pretty much every genre, while most filmmakers just stick to one kind of movie.
Paths of Glory takes place during the middle of World War I. French General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders General Mireau (George Macready) to lead the French soldiers to take over an area called the Anthill, a large desolate piece of land surrounded by French and German trenches. Such as task is impossible to accomplish, but Broulard offers Mireau an extra star if he succeeds, prompting Mireau’s will to do anything to take the area.
Mireau than proceeds to go to the battlefield where he meets up with Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas). Mireau tells him to lead all of his soldiers into the Anthill, which Dax responds by telling him the mission is suicide, as the predicted amount of casualties is over half the men. Mireau, however, doesn’t care. At the offensive attack, the soldiers retreat from the heavy German fire. Mireau, infuriated by this, demands that the men should be punished by death for their cowardice.
Paths of Glory is an anti-war film, and one of the most powerful ever made. Kubrick focuses on the pointlessness of war (which he explores more in Dr. Strangelove), and gives us a view at each of the soldiers. Because we learn about them, we care for them, while most war films have characters being killed off without any thought or care. Without Paths of Glory, we wouldn’t have movies like Saving Private Ryan or Platoon, both of which use similar themes and evoke the same message.
Kubrick is known for being a perfectionist at filmmaking, and it is very evident in Paths of Glory. In a scene where Colonel Dax is walking down the trench, Kubrick gives us a point of view shot, where we see all the men staring at him, looking scared and nervous as they prepare to enter the battle. We hear bombs go off, and see the terror the men are about to face.
The actual battle scenes are absolutely stunning and show Kubrick’s pure genius of the camera. We are given one long tracking shot of the men rushing through the battle field, dodging shells and climbing through barbed wire. Though the scene isn’t actually graphic, we feel like we’re in the battle ground, avoiding bullets and looking for our fallen friends.
The performances in Paths of Glory help us learn more about the characters. Kirk Douglass is fantastic as Dax, but George Macready steals the spotlight every time he appears on screen. Macready gives off the villainous vibe for the character Mireau and I’m not sure if any other actor could successfully fill that part. In many of his films Kubrick often focuses on villains, like in A Clockwork Orange. Mireau is an absorbing antagonist, who is spiteful and hateful. Kubrick allows us to see his intentions, and we lear to despise him for his vileness.
By the end of the film, I was in tears. Paths of Glory really connects with the viewer and allows us to see war through a soldier’s eye. Like Kubrick’s other early movies, Paths of Glory is remarkably short (just about 90 minutes long), but every moment seems to grab you. No other director could really make a film like Kubrick can, and Paths of Glory is one of his finest works.