How this film escaped me, I will never know. Here we see Kubrick establishing his knack for realising beautiful cinematic landscapes and giving depth to characters through the mise-en-scène. In many scenes, a character’s position within the frame defines his level of power – men of lower ranks are visually lower down than their superiors, individuals are cut off from their peers by borders in the background. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this is when the three accused soldiers are on trial. When each individual soldier is questioned, he is framed in a medium close-up, with his superiors a fair distance behind him. This allows us to relate more to him, as he is essentially nearer to us than the others.
The camerawork isn’t limited to static framing. I was hugely impressed with one long tracking shot wherein we see Colonel Dax walk through the trenches. The shot is intercut with footage of the same route, but from Dax’s point of view, observing the soldiers as they cower and wince at every explosion. The two shots intertwine to contrast the reactions to war from different ranks – Colonel Dax puts on an unshakably blank front, while the inexperienced soldiers have a very immediate, natural response.
Towards the emotional climax, a few biblical connotations come into play. There is one scene where the soldiers are being given their last rites that brought to mind a Caravaggio painting, where the audience’s consistent empathy might have grown strong enough to see them as martyrs.