adrian ☭’s review published on Letterboxd:
On one hand, I try to keep my reviews concise and snappy, but Kubrick just does not allow that. His films demand dissection and a closer analysis of the broader messages made in all of it's smallest details.
As expected, though being one of his earliest films, is a staunch and hopeless story about the futility of war and it's devastating effects on men. Experiencing the lowest depths of human depravity, crowded in trenches, regularly breaking down into sobs, and held to inhumane standards in the name of serving the 'greater good' and retaining manufactured honor. Life and liberty is secondary to fighting the dehumanized threat of the 'enemy' (who, ironically, intentionally so, happens to be who provides the most human moment in the film by the end).
The three men who are sentenced to a spectated death for cowardice snivel and grovel to a God they aren't sure exists while their peers and superiors, who are soon to likely be subject to the same fate under this endless human war, watch onward. When someone shows a hint of empathy to the men, they are accused of seeking personal power from the situation. Humanity has no place in war.
All of these themes and ingenious messages all encompassed in the last ten minutes. Col. Dax's men drinking and frothing at the mouth in a disgusting bar in their off time. A German woman (the first and only woman in the film), clearly in distress with tears streaming to her chin, being screamed at and verbally assaulted by these men who have no doubt seen the worst humanity can offer. This only to be immediately swayed by the haunting German-language tune that the woman sings in fear, beginning to hum along with her. Close shots on their face as their limited humanity takes over, and are confronted with the emptiness of the hell they have found themselves in.