If it wasn’t thanks to Kirk Douglas, Kubrick’s movie, could have never existed.
Anti-war, anti-french? Paths Of Glory (inspired by on Humphrey Cobb‘s novel), takes place in 1916, during Wold War I, and focuses on the french army fighting the germans.
Very controversial, when it came out, the movie was forbidden in France, and countries french-friendly. Indeed, it raises an issue, that despite of what it may implies in the movie, is common to every army, during war.
When you are a soldier in time of battle, it is like, you are no longer the person you were before, and you are adapting yourself into a new world, where you are no longer complying to the same rules as you did before. The worst thing war can do to you, which is an awful power, is that, it may surely pushes you to do terrible things. Death becomes trivialized, life becomes a luxury. Therefore, you are more afraid of dying outside of the battlefield. Indeed, Paths of Glory, deals with soldiers putting into death row, because they refused to fight.
Major General Georges Boulard (Adolphe Menjou) ordered the General Paul Mireau (George Macready) to pursue an attack that was quite risky. Therefore, is was Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas)’s duty to lead the soldiers. However, it turned impossible to fight. A lot of soldiers, seeing their fellows dying, refused to go into the field. Madly angry, Mireau decided to execute three soldiers in order to give an example of what can happened, when they don’t obey his orders.
Kubrick painted a clear indifference to humanity, and how absurd war decisions can be. The three soldiers were devastated, and this is where the line was drawn. There is obviously death and death. To go back to what I wrote, dying in the battlefield, for a specific and relative cause, is very different than dying for no clear reason. At least when you fight, you can survive, there is a potential possibility to avoid being killed, whereas when you’re executed, you can only pray for a miracle to happen.
Kubrick made a beautiful anti-war movie, denunciating what could happened during war time, how human life can be taken this lightly. And the director provided the most powerful and magnificent scene at the end, which shows a German girl, who has been captured, “forced” to sing to the french soldiers, zooming into their faces, as the girl kept on with her song. When we could have thought about a different turn of event, the soldiers hummed with her, and both became an entity, but more important, they symbolized hope. A slightly bit of light, of humanity, in this very dark film.