1930: All Quiet on the Western Front

(Originally published 12/31/2009)

Whew, this film is slightly heavier than the last. But that’s why I like this project; it is forcing me to branch out of the fluffy genres.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a drama about teenage boys who enlist in the German army during World War I after listening to their professor preach about the honor and glory of fighting for one’s country. The movie is based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque.

I really liked the discussion some of the soldiers had during a break in the fighting. They are puzzled about why exactly they are fighting.

“Well how do they start a war?”
“Well, one country offends another.”
“You mean, there’s a mountain over in Germany gets mad at a filed over in France?”
“well stupid, one people offends another.”
“Oh if that’s it, I shouldn’t be here at all. I don’t feel offended.”
“It don’t apply to tramps like you.”
“Good, then I’ll be going home right away.”
“Nah you just try it. Wanna get shot?”
“Me and the Kaiser feel the same way about this war. Neither of us wanted war so I’m going home. He’s already there.”

Continued…
“Maybe the Kaiser really did want a war.”
“Why? He’s got everything he wants.”
“Well he hasn’t had a war. Every full-grown emperor needs one war to make him famous. That’s history.”

Continued…
“I’ll tell you how it should all be done. Whenever there’s a big war coming on, you should rope off a big field–
“–and sell tickets–”
“And on the big day you should take all the kings and their cabinets and their generals, and put them in the center dressed in their underpants and let them fight it out with clubs. The best country wins.”

I have left out a lot of the conversation, so this movie is well worth watching just for this scene. It captures the personalitites of the characters and conveys the message of the movie in a humorous, natural way.

After three years at war, the main character goes home for a few days on leave. While there, he visits his old classroom where the professor is still preaching the honor of serving Germany. When Paul speaks to the class about the reality of war, the students call him a coward. When he spends time with his father and the older gentlemen, he hears them debating about pushing on to Paris. Paul is so frustrated by everyone’s lack of understanding that he returns to the front before his leave is up. His true family has become his fellow soldiers because they understand the truth.

If you liked Band of Brothers, you will like All Quiet on the Western Front. I do appreciate that this movie is able to convey its message without the use of gore. This epic, timeless tale was banned in many countries going to war for years after its release because its message is clear and poignant.

Major themes: the effect of combat on individuals, the chasm between those fighting the war and those in charge, friendship

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