PATHS OF GLORY
Stanley Kubrick, 1957
The WWI soldiers are stuck in a trench warfare.
French General Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) discusses a suicidal mission against the Germans with the ambitious General Mireau (George Macready). Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) protests but is unable to prevent the fiasco. The soldiers refuse to obey Mireau’s disputable orders.
Mireau is furious and gets three soldiers to be court-martialed in return. Caporal Paris (Ralph Meeker), privates Ferol (Timothy Carey) and Arnaud (Joe Turkel) are waiting for their turn.
See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we’ll be dead and it’ll be alive.
Dax, a former lawyer, takes their defense.
Gentlemen of the court, to find these men guilty would be a crime to haunt each of you till the day you die.
There is nothing Dax can do. The men will die. During the trial, Broulard is impressed by Dax’s charisma. He offers him Mireau’s job. Dax refuses in disgust.
It would be a pity to lose your promotion before you get it. A promotion you have so very carefully planned for.
Sir, would you like me to suggest what you can do with that promotion?
The other soldiers are recovering in a pub. The noise is suddenly interrupted by a German prisoner (Christiane Harlan). Her song gives a break to the soldiers who listen to quietly for a minute, before going back to war.
Paths of Glory is about honor.
Life makes us ramp whether it’s in the mud or in the subway. We sometimes do not see the light anymore. We become angry, dirty, living like cockroaches. We lose any sense of humanity. In those difficult conditions, we’re all trying to make our way out.
Nobody wants to die.
Some men only focus on themselves, like Broulard and Mireau. Those two are driven by their own ambitions. Broulard sees himself as a pragmatic who wants to win the war at all cost, even if that includes the massacre of his men. What he wants, really, is to be the hero. He wants to be the one who will make France win the war. Whereas Mireau is obsessed with climbing up the ladder. He follows the orders as long as they help him get a promotion. These men are making calculations. They are taking advantage of a situation to grow their influence. They make profit out of war. They represent politicians who live in a tower but pretend to take decisions for the good of their people. They do not really care about anything but themselves.
Some men instead try to preserve their honor like the soldiers who face an unfair trial. They pay for Broulard’s craziness and Mireau’s stupidity. On the verge of death, they are not afraid. They hate the thought of being killed.
I’m not afraid of dying tomorrow, only of getting killed.
There’s a man who stands out: Dax. He lives with his men, far away from Broulard’s cosy castle. He’s different because he takes responsibilities unlike Mireau who receives and forwards orders. Dax makes a step up and rises against the power when he disagrees. He has the guts to say no.
Are you protesting the authenticity of this court?
Yes, sir. I protest against being prevented from introducing evidence which I considered vital to the defense; the prosecution presented no witnesses; there has never been a written indictment of charges made against the defendants, and lastly, I protest against the fact that no stenographic records of this trial have been kept. The attack yesterday morning was no stain on the honor of France, and certainly no disgrace to the fighting men of this nation. But this Court Martial is such a stain, and such a disgrace. .
He talks the talk but that would not be enough. He has to walk the walk. His action are meaningful because they are not easy to take, like refusing a promotion when it goes against his ethics. By doing so, he’s making a point.
Colonel Dax! You will apologize at once or I shall have you placed under arrest!
I apologize… for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!
Dax is inspiring because he follows his beliefs before his own interests. He puts his men first. Dax is not playing games. He thinks. He questions. He challenges. He fights against what is not fair. If it was for him, we would probably not go to war. Whereas Broulard and Mireau are like Tall (cf The Thin Red Line), Dax is like Staros who protects his men. He is also like Welsh who doesn’t care for medals. The way Dax acts makes him a free man. No matter what happens, he will always keep his honor.
Gentlemen of the court, there are times that I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion.
Dax is the one who lets his men enjoy the song. Thanks to him, humanity is preserved. Trenches lead some men to death. Some others walked out with glory.
Should glory be rewarded for words or actions? Should it be rewarded with medals? Should glory be an objective?
This publication reflects the views only of the author.