All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★

Germany’s official entry for the Academy Awards in the Best International Film category is a harrowing anti-war film that doesn’t let the viewer look away from the bloodshed. If you are really into war films this will be right up your alley. If you’re into films as an art form you should have this on your watchlist. I haven’t read the classic novel and I haven’t seen the classic film adaptation so I won’t be bringing any kind of relevant perspective on how this differs from the rest. I actually meant to watch it on release day, but sometimes you just can’t! Then it became a matter of when can I fit in this long and depressing film into my week. I’ve now seen it and it was just like I’d hoped it would be. 

You get a lot of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory here with the tracking shots in the trenches and you get a lot of horizontal tracking shots as they run into battle like Sam Mendes does in 1917. I’m sure the filmmaker had those films in mind when making this movie. This one probably carries inspiration from Come and See (the most famous anti-war film in cinema history), but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t confirm. 

We follow Paul and his friends as they willingly and happily sign up for war because they think it sounds exciting and heroic. Blindly signing up for war is something I’m sure a lot of people did due to their government’s propaganda. They soon find out once they get there that they never should’ve went. The horrors start immediately and it’s a shite show from there on. War is the most inhumane human invention in the history of the world. It’s created by men in power who do not even get blood on their own hands. It’s seen in this film when the director juxtaposes the soldiers dying horrible deaths and seeing their friends burned alive with the generals and admirals enjoying fine meals in the peaceful headquarters. Evil men in power with no regard to humanity will start and end wars. The soldiers are just disposable chess pieces in this match they are playing against the enemy. Disposable is the perfect word for these men. It’s horrible, but that’s the theme of the whole movie. All of these brothers who have families and love each other do not mean a thing to the higher ups. They’re just one more dog tag to collect until they can get more men in to keep dying the cyclical death of the war machine.

The performances are all so very good and they add a realism to this film that it needed. Felix Kammerer plays Paul excellently as we watch the horrors of war through his eyes. Director Edward Berger crafts a beautiful movie about horrifying events. The beauty is in the terror. The only thing I probably needed more from was the exposition at the beginning. If we spent just a little bit more time with Paul and his friends to get to know them a little more it would’ve added better depth to the overall story. Perhaps the film also needed to not feel so indebted to other films of the past. Let’s be clear here, we’ve had plenty of anti-war films in the past show us the horrors of war. This one isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is immersive and deserves to be seen. Either way, this is a fantastic movie you can watch in the comfort of your own home on Netflix. Get in the right mindset and press play. 

I’ll leave you with some interesting thoughts that Paul Schrader said about this film on his Facebook page: “ALL'S QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. There's a valid argument that all war films are pro-war films. It's not possible to dramatize the fetishisms, the comraderies, the energies, the strategies, the technologies, the common purposes of war without glorifying them. Every anti-war film is a pretend anti-war film. Netflix's German update of All's Quiet is as close to an anti-war film as anything I've seen. There's no bravery, no comradery, no honor, no intelligence--just stupidity and brutality. A searing indictment of war. But it's still a pro-war film.”

Something to think about among the cinematic carnage you’ll witness.

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