For tough-minded critics, the pared-to-the-bone perfection of Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory falls apart during this final scene, which lasts just under four minutes. To them it’s a forced finale — an attempt to abruptly squeeze emotion out of a deeply cruel situation that Kubrick has portrayed in a cool, realistic, matter-of-fact manner from the start. And then, out of the blue, a roomful of coarse, rowdy soldiers, showing their own kind of cruelty to poor Christiane Kubrick, is gradually reduced to silence and then tears in the space of 100 seconds.
In short, critics have said, the first 84 minutes constitute one thing, and the final four are something else.
In my view the scene is saved by the unknown actors (who may have been extras for all I know but nonetheless hit the notes) and the expert editing, which allows the sadness to leak out just so.
How would Paths of Glory play today, if a fact-based World War I film was to somehow get made and distributed theatrically? One, making it would be awfully difficult — too much trouble and expense for too little return. Two, it would never open theatrically — a film of this sort would never have a chance with the downmarket megaplexers, but would probably find a berth with Netflix or Amazon. Three, the film festival circuit would appreciate it but the p.c. fraternity would probably give it a mixed response, partly for the ending and partly because it’s too white (no French solders of color) and too straight (no LGBTQ characters).