Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”, the Abuse of Power, and the Inevitable Absurdity of War

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

-Thomas Grey, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,1751

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is often celebrated as the director’s first true masterwork.  Adapting a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Kubrick’s film contemplates power struggles, justice, and the wastefulness of war.  The crux of the story involves three French soldiers who are court-martialed for cowardice after retreating from an impossible attack, but Kubrick’s story is not a mere anti-war film.  The trite idea that “war is bad” is taken as a given, and augmented by multiple impressive cinematic and storytelling techniques into an even more powerful statement:  there is an utter absurdity to war, one that incentivizes an habitual abuse of power and a routine miscarriage of justice.

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