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Paths Of Glory - Analysis

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
- Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax

Based on a novel by Humphrey Cobb and a budget of 935000 US Dollars, director Stanley Kubrick released his massive anti-war movie in 1957. It immediately caused controversy for its devastating portrayal of the French military and was banned in France until 1975. It stars Kirk Douglas in one of his greatest performances and finally wound up as a modest success at the box office.

For the opening credits Kubrick uses a quirky parody of the French „Marseillaise“, setting the bitter, ironic tone for his film. After that the movie cuts to a world of shining and bright estates, inhabited by leading generals of the French army. Patriotism and propaganda seem to hover over the whole scenery, affecting the tenor of the daily small talk between generals like Mireau and Broulard.
Here, war is just a theoretical construct, something like a distant real-life game, a machinery all working and running like clockwork. The disasters that usually go along with war do not exist in these chateaus (actually it was filmed in Castle Schleissheim, Munich), just the duty given by the fatherland. Beyond all that there is the personal benefit floating around their minds for which they are willing to take the risk of high losses.
So general Mireau doesn’t mind sending his men up the German „Ant Hill“ when he sees a chance to enhance his position in the French army, although he clearly knows it is suicidal to go against the well-defended Ant Hill with weakened troops. As a matter of fact, he talks himself into believing that his men could defeat the Germans and deliberately faces a clash with reality.
Kubrick spends the first five minutes entirely in this decadent environment, showing us what an aloof life of luxury those generals lead.

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