If those little sweethearts won’t face German bullets, they’ll face French ones.”
“Paths of Glory” opens with a shocking portrayal of military corruption in a palatial French château during World War I. Then it maneuvers through the botched attack of a key German position, a crooked court-marshal and the execution of three innocent soldiers, before it winds up being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
To experience this movie is to catch an exhilarating buzz as you realize the director took the risk of going the anti-war route, got away with it and delivered a story that is entirely unique, and, yet, shares ideas that are as well-known as old running shoe – or a tanned cowhide trench boot, more accurately.
I was very moved by the anti-war, and more importantly, anti-patriotic theme of “Paths of Glory”. It’s not that I believe territorial behavior is unbecoming of a nation. Nor do I believe in pacifism or the value of diversity. But this movie’s uncompromising depiction of the humiliating and dehumanizing treatment of French soldiers at the hands of their of their very own generals is so satisfyingly cynical of flag-waving and national loyalty. Soldiers are slaves in this film. General Mireau thinks of his soldiers as disposable tools. He is willing to see 55% of his men torn to pieces by machine gun fire if only their deaths earn him a promotion and some new medals. They’re cows to the slaughter. When French soldiers refuse to charge an enemy fortress, Gen. Mireau attempts to have shots fired at his own men. His subordinates refuse his command. So, he has one soldier from each company executed by firing squad for “cowardice”. In the world of “Paths of Glory” there is no one on earth more omega than the soldier.
This movie was just another good reminder that relationships are mutually beneficial or they are garbage and manipulation. The soldiers in “Paths of Glory” stand to gain nothing for their bravery. They are putting their lives on the line. They do so because they want to protect the country they were raised in and, seemingly, love. And how does their country repay them for their loyalty? By executing them after calling them disgusting cowards. They are suppose to sprint into a monsoon of machine gun fire because it was their “duty” to do so. Fuck duty. Anyone who refuses to use logic when imploring you to take action, but instead asserts that it is your “duty” to do this or that is attempting to enslave you.
The black and white cinematography of this film is just beautiful. The tracking shots down in the trenches, the soldiers dodging cannon explosions on the battle field, Kubrick’s trademark camera placement. Visually, it’s just great. However, the dialogue is where this movie shines. Ultimately, “Paths of Glory” is a talking heads movie. It almost feels like watching a play on a television screen, because dialogue is so ubiquitous and delivered so rapidly. There is zero fluff in this movie. Every single syllable uttered is meant to serve the movement of the plot. It almost feels Shakespearean in a way.
“Paths of Glory” is the ultimate argument against being a “nice guy” .
Go watch this movie.