Cinemallennials: Paths of Glory (1957)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cinemallennials, it is a bi-weekly podcast in which I, and another millennial, watch a classic film that we’ve never seen before, and discuss its significance and relevance in today’s world.
In today’s episode, I’ll be talking with Nick Reed about Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film, Paths of Glory – a film that is often thought of as one of the most shocking criticisms of war, its futility, and what it does to both its participants and the civilians that are affected by its consequences.
Stanley Kubrick is often considered to be one of the most innovative filmmakers of all-time. Kubrick’s technical achievements, combined with his meticulous focus on realistic detail, his thought-provoking stories and his use of painterly cinematography, are all examples of what makes him one of the greats. In addition to his methodical and visual hallmarks, Kubrick’s philosophical approach to filmmaking appeals to both intellectuals and the common man as he is able to balance the fine line of simple, but not uncomplicated. Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket could never have been realized in their finalized state as some of the greatest films of all time — if it wasn’t for Paths of Glory.
Paths of Glory follows the story of Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), who is ordered by his arrogant and grandiose commanding officer, General Mireau (George Macready) to capture an impossible strategic position in no man’s land, most likely leading his troops to their certain deaths. After the attack fails, and with his pride hurt, Mireau singles out four of Dax’s men for court-martial which could lead to their execution. Dax must defend these men against Mireau’s words and, as one of the best criminal lawyers in all of France prior to the war, he is the only one capable to do so. Or is he?
During the episode, Nick and I will be discussing the horrors of the First World War, how it is insufficiently discussed in the United States, the ill-guided romanticization of war in general, and how that view of it can change the human condition.
Stanley Kubrick once told Craig McGregor of the New York Times that: “Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved – that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.” This quote is what really drives both Paths of Glory and Kubrick’s often absurdist depiction of war and its institutions.
In Paths of Glory, the French trenches are realistically grim and full of reproduced sights and sounds that soldiers would have likely witnessed and heard — as one can see from the most famous scene of the film in which Colonel Dax trudges through the mud, flanked by his men with shells exploding on all sides. While Kubrick presents a fraction of what was actually in the trenches with its sound and fury, what makes Paths of Glory stand out as an anti-war film is his use of dialogue and music to mock the absurdities of the war and its officer class, and show how that class can change the future of the lower classes’ human condition without any real consequence.
Through this exploration of the First World War and in the way its romanticized, we as the younger generation should learn how the supposed “War to end all wars” still affects us today as a result of the millions of unnecessary deaths. Not only was it the inspiration for Paths of Glory, amongst other great feats of cinema - as recently as Sam Mendes’ 1917 – but its direct consequences have led to some of the problems that we still are facing today.
I hope you enjoy this episode of Cinemallennials, which you can find here on apple podcasts or on spotify. Please reach out to me as I would love to hear your thoughts on Paths of Glory, especially if you’re a first-time viewer too!
— Dave Lewis for Classic Movie Hub
Dave Lewis is the producer, writer, and host of Cinemallennials, a podcast where he and another millennial watch a classic film that they haven’t seen before ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s and discuss its significance and relevance in our world today. Before writing for Classic Movie Hub, Dave wrote about Irish and Irish-American history, the Gaelic Athletic Association in the United States, and Irish innovators for Irish America magazine. You can find more episodes of Cinemallennials, film reviews and historical analyses, on Dave’s website dlewmoviereview.com or his YouTube channel.