PJ Knapke’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
How should we portray war? Despite the immeasurable despair and devastation that must come with every war film, there is always a particularly steadfast beating heart hinging upon the triumph of humanity and its potential for true heroism beating deep within. This is understandable, and is an accurate portrayal by all means. As Truffaut famously claimed, an anti-war film is an impossibility, as it is a gargantuan task to overcome the inevitable evocation of excitement or camaraderie, both of which seem to truly exist. But then again, this can't always be the case, can it? What about when the chain of command acts as a chain on the ankles of each and every subordinate, linking them to their inevitable deaths at the hands of "the cause"? What about when all the paths of glory lead to the grave, and the paths of cowardice and submission follow suit?
It is my belief that in making this masterpiece, Kubrick has crafted one of the few legitimately all-encompassing anti-war films in the history of cinema (Come and See is the only other that comes to mind immediately, I'm certain there are other I have neglected to mention). The film is devastating, infuriating, desperate, and ultimately forlorn, and Kubrick leaves no room for warmth. His use of black and white, his lack of score, and his unflinching camera views this world with as cold a look as can be, never meandering or lingering on a scene for artistic purposes. In Kubrick's world, man is a brutal, self-interested beast who will take the path of least resistance every time, and it becomes a near impossible task to argue with the cinematic genius' worldview as the film concludes. As infuriating as the film is, the taste on the tongue that the film leaves its viewers with is by no means fiery, but deeply melancholic, full of almost kafkaesque despair in the face of man's insufferable indifference and tendency for cruelty.
Nothing can be done. The second time it's a farce, and the third, and the fourth, and so on. For our collective existence, time truly is a cycle of ignorance, fire alarm oversight, and the easy way out, as destruction loops back on itself for all eternity. Self interest rules the world.