Young Paul Bäumer and his school friends join the Imperial German Army. They get excited when the uniforms are handed over to them and begin to romanticize their gallantry on the battlefield. Not a single clue do they have what they are about to watch as they are moved to the Western Front to fight trench warfare against the French.
In 1928, the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque published “Im Westen nichts Neues” based on his experience when he joined the army to fight the great war. The book achieved widespread critical acclaim and sold 2.5 million copies in the first 18 months.
Two years later, the book was adapted into an American film “All Quiet on the Western Front”. The film won both the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Oscar, the first to do so. Also, the first to win Best Picture that was based on a novel.
Unsurprisingly, the author was declared ‘unpatriotic’ by the government in the following years, and his books were banned, removed from the libraries, and burned. There had never been a film produced in any part of the world that adapted this novel until none other than a German film production decided to adapt it.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is based on the final events of the first World War dramatizing blood-boiling painstaking action sequences that reflect the mental and physical trauma the German soldiers faced and suffered.
The most successful point about the film is that it is a period film that magnificently establishes and serves its purpose to be an anti-war film. Usually, films based on war try to glamorize the heroics of one and satanize the other. Some war films focus on basing the film on a depressive note highlighting a tragic story that suffered during the war. But the essence of this film lies in the negative nature of the war. This film successfully proves that war brings no hope but despair.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is extremely human with a realistic approach towards the mannerism and wants. For example, a few soldiers witness some French women walking in the fields. It is such a delight for them to watch after such rough times on the field. One of the soldiers couldn’t resist and spent some time with one of them and returned with a woman’s scarf as a souvenir. When the soldier shows the scarf to his friends, each of them smells and feels it. An accurate and very understood affection the human is bound to take pleasure in after fighting on the field.
There are a few such scenes that recognize trying to establish some sense to the most powerful people in the world today. An illiterate soldier asks Paul to read his wife’s letter to him. A soldier collects the lockets of identifications and spots the one who saved him before. The one that was very compelling was when Paul repeatedly stabs a French soldier and distances himself. Seeing him dying remorses him and then he makes an unsuccessful attempt to save him but it is too late. The message was clear in this incredibly shot scene, the war brings no peace but destruction.
The significance of gas masks has been highlighted in this film. Somewhere in the first 20 minutes, the German troop is immediately alarmed by the gas attack and ordered to wear a gas mask. In the midst of the film, 60 of the missing troops are killed by the gas because they mistakenly took off their masks soon.
The use of this psychological weapon of a chemical attack was the counterattack of the French. Because it was the Germans who introduced this poison gas when they used it in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium in April 1915. If I am not wrong, this was the first ever poison gas attack in warfare history. How ironic to see the German Army being the victim of what they created!
One of the most critical observations about this film is at the beginning of the film. Rational and thoughtful. When the soldiers get killed in the war and buried in their coffins. Their uniforms are washed, pressed, properly starched, sewed, and made to look new and fresh product that gets reused by the new recruits who wore them excitedly.
This matter can be taken lightly or pressed in a positive or a negative matter. Fully depends if you are okay with that or if you find it rubbish. From a positive angle, it is the transfer of honor from one to the other.
From a negative and a more critical perspective, the uniforms were handed over without respecting the martyred because the uniforms could have been delivered to the families. Perhaps the film wants to show that the-then army didn’t want to invest in the new uniforms. Or maybe this is how it is in some parts of the world. I have no knowledge about it but in all honesty, I feel the uniform of the martyred either should be handed over to their family or bury the martyred in that uniform.
The film remarkably settled the balance of the noisy battles and the table-talk silence. The latter part is the people in power trying to outdo each other. I found out on the internet that the scene of the armistice is not in the novel. But I am okay with it because including the events of the armistice was extremely important as the film intended to show how the first World War actually concluded.
It is highly accurate that the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allied Governments at 5am and would take effect at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. And the battle was intentionally fought until 11 am.
But I am not sure about the real reason behind the six-hour delay. Why the war has to end at 11am? Why not at 5am when the armistice is signed? There were nearly 11,000 casualties on the final day of the war. 3000 of those lost their lives in those six hours. A very costly delay but the film took the responsibility to dramatize the fight of those six hours that you may rather call brave and courageous or foolish and madness.
I didn’t base my film review to develop a discussion about history but to inform the readers that ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is one of the most human films based on a great war and reflected on its consequences. An anti-war film that does not allow to glamorize heroism but rather dramatizes it as the need of the hour.
The ugly sense of blindness about the harsh realities of war are well dramatized. The displaying of horrifying war action sequences in compelling cinematography is breathtaking. This film would have looked more realistic if directed in monochrome.
One of the biggest achievements of the film is that despite the fact that it is a German film based on the Imperial German Army, the audience will not distinguish it but consider it as a loss to humanity showing no concern about what side you are on.
The film is a dead man’s poetry that flew away and sunk into the mud. It is one of the most honest representations of the tragic human phase of the fighting soldiers who died in the most brutal fashion with a picture of his wife and kids in their pockets.
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