What piece of art changed your life? And how did it affect you?
I first saw Kubrick's Paths of Glory as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. The last scene -- an affirmation of the dignity inherent in even the most common man -- shattered me. I got that much out of it, at least, though I was still quite young and somewhat literal. I think I mistook the film for a war story, or a courtroom tale. I know I didn't see it as indicative of anything other than what I then regarded naively as a unique period of human history -- the charnel house of World War I.
I think I now understand the film, one of Kubrick's finest, better.
It is, I believe, the most important political film of the last century, a stark testament to the power that modern institutions wield and the ultimate vulnerability of individuals who are served or are supposed to be served by such institutions. Humphrey Cobb wrote the novel before the nuclear age, and Kubrick put it to film well before the information age and the cult of political terrorism rendered our planet small and lethal. But all the elements by which human beings are devalued and destroyed for the sake of someone else's greater purpose are there, latent, on display.
They actually banned Paths of Glory in France, thinking -- too literally again -- that it was about France. No. God, no. It's all of us, lost in a rigged game.
David Simon is the creator of The Wire, Generation Kill, and The Corner for HBO.