Review by Trylon volunteer David Berglund.
When exploring film history, you run into a large assortment of anti-war films, yet none are more devastating and masterfully argued than Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. On reflection, it is odd that Kubrick, cinema’s greatest tactical ideologue, could make such a movingly humanistic film as this. Perhaps it was his cerebral approach to cinema that gives this film so much power. The story is, after all, simultaneously human and inhuman. Its central characters exhibit inherent humanity in their compassion for one another, but the larger political systems that deeply affect them operate with simple pragmatism. It is through this veil of pragmatism that Kubrick tells his story, keeping his viewers at arm’s length and demanding sociopolitical reflection deeper than simple sympathy. So many anti-war films will appeal to emotion and burn down straw-men, but the reserve Kubrick shows with this film allows the atrocities he presents to be both shocking and comprehensible.
The plot begs for melodrama, but Kubrick does not allow it any, making its injustices not simply heartbreaking, but persistently nauseating. It is easy to forget a simple argument against pride or bigotry–we all agree these attributes are detestable. It is much harder to dismiss a film that builds emotional ties to its characters while presenting systematic problems with political systems, arguing succinctly that there are no easy answers.
There is so much that could be praised about this Paths of Glory, from the terrifying thrills of its tracking shots through the trenches of World War I to its deeply moving and sobering finale, which provides a perfect call to action. It is a furious and tense 90 minutes that is both suspenseful and thoughtful. As few war films do, not just the brutality of its action, but its arguments stick in your gut long after viewing.
David Berglund is a proud Longfellow resident and ardent cinema junkie who previously wrote on film with his wife, Chelsea Berglund, on their Movie Matrimony blog.
Paths of Glory screens Friday and Saturday at 7:00 and 9:00, Sunday at 5:00 and 7:00. Purchase tickets here.