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All Quiet on The Western Front; A Critique of War

All Quiet on The Western Front is a 2022 film adaption of the German novel Im Westen Nichts Neues (Nothing New in The West). The novel was written by Erich Maria Remarque a German World War 1 veteran.

Remarque’s actual name is Erich Paul Remark, he changed his name when he fled Nazi Germany due to the contents of his book, which criticized the war and depicted German soldiers in a vulnerable mental state due to what they experienced while fighting.

The book was based on Remarque’s own experience in the Imperial German Army during World War 1. The book soon became an international bestseller that created a new literary genre. Due to the novel’s anti-war themes, it was condemned by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who dubbed it as “unpatriotic.”

The Book was banned in Germany and copies were removed from all libraries and restricted from being sold or published anywhere in the country. During the rise of the Nazi party Nothing New in The West and its sequel, The Road Back, was among the books that were burned.

The novel describes the extreme physical and mental trauma the German soldiers experienced during the war as well as the detachment from civilian life felt by many upon returning from the front lines.

The novel was adapted into multiple films. The 1930 adaption was directed by Lewis Milestone and won an Academy Award. It was adapted again in 1979 by Delbert Mann though this time as a television film; then again in 2022 directed by Edward Berger, this was the first time the book was adapted into its original language of German for the film.

The movie is set in the closing days of World War I, it follows the life of German soldier Paul Bäumer, who, after enlisting in the German Army with his friends, finds himself exposed to the realities of war, shattering his early hopes of becoming a hero.

In the film, Baumer is used as a guide to show the horrors of war first-hand. The film introduces an element of humanity, in the way characters interact with each other and depicts war in a deeply complex manner compared to the usual Hollywood war film.

Most Hollywood films use the battleground as a prop to show what makes soldiers heroes, whereas in All Quiet on The Western Front the battlefield is depicted as their fate. As there’s a sense of dread that falls over the soldiers and you as the viewer.

All Quiet on The Western Front does a good job of drawing comparisons between the life of the soldiers on the front line and those in charge, by often switching between politicians on a luxury train eating delicious foods and the soldiers having to steal a goose from a farmer or eating their enemy’s food in the middle of a firefight, while their general is smoking a cigar on the patio of an abandoned villa, looking over the battlefield as bombs explode in the distance.

Most Hollywood war films shy away from this critique choosing to focus on the heroic actions of the few, like in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Where Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his platoon of Rangers trek through battle after battle to find Private Ryan the last brother of four still alive, there is no critique of the military or its higher-ups for a family losing three sons and potentially a fourth, instead, it is brushed off as a mistake which they quickly rectify.

In All Quiet on The Western Front, the film depicts the ego of generals and politicians and how they see their soldiers as nothing more than numbers, using them as pieces on a chess board. They do this by showing the military reusing the clothes of fallen soldiers for new recruits in the early scenes of the film, as well as the general’s refusal to let the battle end in the final hour of the war.

All Quiet on The Western Front shows that when it comes to war there are no good guys or bad guys, unlike most Hollywood war films which always have a clear line between who’s good and who’s bad. Rather the film depicts both sides as casualties in a war that should not have been.   

All Quiet on The Western Front has a 90% of 105 critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with positive reviews, With an average rating of 8.3/10. Moreover, Metacritic has rated the film 76 out of 100, based on 34 critics. The critic’s consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads, "Both timely and timeless, All Quiet on the Western Front retains the power of its classic source material by focusing on the futility of war."

If you are interested in seeing a war film that shows you a different viewpoint to the usual films that depict war, then All Quiet on the Western Front is the film you, it is now available for streaming on Netflix.

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