A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Paths of Glory is a heavy, war-is-futile movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. For a war film with battle scenes, there's almost no blood or gore, although a bloody dead body is briefly seen once and wounded soldiers with bloody bandages are in the background several times. Although there's little of concern visually, the movie's heavy themes about the useless loss of life during war, and how the chain of command enables impossible situations that lead to even more loss of life, are told at a careful, considerate pace best appreciated by teens and up. The all-adult cast is frequently seen drinking alcohol, sometimes as a social norm and sometimes as an escape, and it's clear that it can lead to tragic consequences on the battlefield.
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What's the story?
Colonel Dax's (Kirk Douglas) troops have been asked by their supreme commander (Adolphe Menjou) to do the impossible. When they are in fact unable to do it, their commanding general Mireau (George Macready), himself largely responsible for the fiasco, wants an entire company to face execution. Eventually three are chosen to face court-martial. Can Colonel Dax save the men from the firing squad?
Is it any good?
Kubrick presents a thoughtful, contemplative look at an impossible war-time situation that results in a tragic miscarriage of justice, in which the true horror of war is its endless futility. Some of the dialogue and blocking are overly formal and stilted, but the true power of the film is in the reaction shots. For some of the strongest moments, the speaker is actually off-screen so that the viewer slowly absorbs the impact of what's being said while watching the face of the listener. It's here that Kirk Douglas really shines, and the masterful scene of the company in the tavern, comprising mostly reaction shots, will tug at the heartstrings of even the most hardened.
The complex themes involving military chain of command and philosophical discussions about fear of dying, not to mention the downer ending highlighting the cruelly endless nature of war, make this a better choice for older teens who are ready for moral complexity. The slow pace and black-and-white photography may be off-putting, but kids who can hang in there will get an emotional payoff at the end -- and a lot of food for thought.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why movies about war are so popular. Can a movie that was made in 1957 about soldiers during World War I help us understand anything about war today?
When the soldiers are singing in the tavern, why do you think so many cry? What are they thinking about?
This movie was made in 1957, a dozen or so years after World War II. Why do you think Kubrick chose to make this movie?
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