All Quiet on the Western Front – A Review
All Quiet on the Western Front is originally a novel published in November and December of 1928 by Erich Maria Remarque, a World One Veteran. The author describes the perils of war, the detachment of the men from the civilian life, and the trauma that war brings to a man and his mind. This book resonated with many of the soldiers who returned home from the war. Later this book, along with many more would be banned and thrown into the fires by the Nazi regime that rose later. The book then came back and was later made into a film in the 1930’s, directed by Lewis Milestone. The film would win an Academy Award.
Recently Netflix released a remake of the film, directed by Edward Berger. The remake received world-wide acclaim for remaining faithful to the book, which is a good thing these days since films often fail to live up to the book themselves. The main character of the story is a young man by the name of Paul Bäumer, played by Felix Kammerer. Paul and his friends are young and hear an inspiring speech given to them to enlist and protect the fatherland, Germany that is from the French. This film looks at the war from the German perspective. I would say the companion piece to this film would be 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, who happens to have had a great grandfather that served in the first World War. It is a beautifully shot film that gives an angle from the English side. Both films take place within the same year, though All Quiet on the Western Front extends into 1918 when the truce is placed into effect.
As stated above, Paul and his friends enlist and they are excited to be a part of something big; however that changes when they reach the Western Front. I will not get into the specific plot details as you may have not watched the film yet, but rather share some thoughts on the film overall. Paul’s journey and thoughts resonate with me, a Veteran and with many veterans out there. It is an entry for civilians to see the baggage and the emotional toll war places upon a man. War is brutal, it is unforgiving, and unnatural.
This review is rather focused on the humanity of it, rather than the political side, which the film does show as the Germans seek a peace, an armistice. The loss of young men piled up daily and the Germans were losing ground rapidly. The war was fought for a few meters of land a day and many young men died trying to secure the land.
Back to our main character, Paul, a young man, who is well educated, a man who just wanted to show his mother that he could in fact fight, though his mother warned him he would die. In the beginning of the film we see Paul and his close friends enthusiastic as they are supporting their fatherland. They are fed grand speeches on how victorious they will be and when they come home, they will be hailed as heroes as they were their Iron Crosses on their uniforms.
As they enter the western front, their enthusiasm fades quickly as they behold the brutality of front. World War One was the introduction of trench warfare, chemical weapons, flame throwers, and the iron tank. As men are capable of creating beauty, we are also capable of creating nightmares. Within a few minutes Paul and his friends are engaged by the enemy and the loss of life starts to pile up, including a dear friend of Paul’s that dies in the first act of the film. The illusion of victory and going how dissolve as the soldiers realize it is better to die in no man’s land then go home and carry the burdens that will plague their minds.
We part from the battlefield and see the delegates meet with the French to pursue a truce. The lead delegate is played by Daniel Brühl. There is the antagonist, General Friedrich, played by Devid Striesow. The General comes from a soldier’s family and wants to carry on the tradition of winning as his father and his father’s father did. There is a quote in the movie 1917 that best encapsulates men like the General. The quote below:
“Smith (Mark Strong), who has helped Schofield on his way, gives him a warning: “If you do manage to get to Col. MacKenzie, make sure that there are witnesses.” “They are direct orders, Sir,” Schofield points out. Smith replies: “I know. But some men just want the fight.” Never fear!”
There are men who just want to fight and forgo peace. This was the General’s mindset. He did not want to fail his ancestry I suppose and in doing so would rather sacrifice men then lose the war. The film shows both sides, from the delegates to the men in the trenches and we see this through the eyes of Paul, who by now has become tired, hungry, and ready to be home, at peace. However, men who live through any war, do not have peace as can be seen through the wars we have seen in our lifetimes.
The film is graphic in nature and shows the brutality of fighting. We see men set on fire from the use of flamethrowers, men shot and blown apart, and a man being run over by a tank. I would caution parents not to let their kids watch this film. It is an honest film. A film that does not hide the trauma of war and the realities of it all.
This film hit me hard as a Veteran. I was in tears at times. I have spent many hours at the VA Hospital and seen grown men in tears at the trauma of war. Their memories of losing their friends and the people they killed. It never leaves a man. We tend to overlook these things as well as the governments that have sent them.
It is also a testimony to the depravity of men and the great evils that we are capable of. Many men who return today from tours do not have peace and sadly, they take their lives because the system has failed them. I have seen it and been a part of it myself. There is hope and peace though for you, if you are a veteran of past wars. His name is Jesus Christ and He alone can give you that peace that you are looking for. Civilians will never understand but we who are a Band of Brothers do and we need to support one another, no matter what branch, age, or era we fought in.
All Quiet on the Western Front shows the visceral truth behind war. Paul eventually finds his peace, but not in the way you might think. As Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.
I give the film 5 stars. May we never forget the men and the history of World War One and World War Two.