All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

There is nothing heroic about war. There lies no honor in it, no reward; all excitement or lust for it will pass. All Quiet on the Western Front is a deconstruction of not only the myth of the glorious war, but also a deviation from the patriotic war movie with its tendency to find meaning in tragedy, make sense of the ugliness.

You might wonder: Why another one? Aren‘t there enough already? And with this I don‘t mean war movies that celebrate their subject matter, or lessen the brutality of war by looking at it through some kind of distorting mirror - even make war sentimental, or create heroes to make the viewer a little more comfortable; I‘m talking about the Anti-War-Films that already very successfully deliver a deconstruction. And there are in fact a few scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front that remind of older, well-respected Anti-War-Films. I would argue, however, that, especially in times like these, All Quiet on the Western Front is needed. Right now we need to be haunted all anew.

You will find no sentimentality here. Our characters‘ excitement, their juvenile foolishness to go to war - all of it encouraged as some glorious adventure you don’t want to miss out on, or even the honor of the good, upright citizen - will die down very quickly, and all that will be left will be intense, deadly, brutal, ugly, eventually making you numb and empty. All scenes are so carefully crafted; that goes from wonderful shot composition and cinematography to playing with imagery without the impulse to constantly explain what it means. How the movie plays with its food scenes - how it sets them in contrast - is fantastic. 
There is a shot in here so beautiful, so meaningful: The focus is on the glass of a broken window that frames one of the characters in the middle who is completely blurred.

And the people on the other side, the people that need to be fought and killed, are merely mirroring our characters' own fears. All the while, people of high ranks sit in their pomp and decide whether to continue, or say that even when the war is almost over, it is not actually. They don’t care about the people they call heroes and that they let die for them. When you die, you'll just be a forgotten name tag on a new soldier's jacket. You will be thrown away carelessly.

It manages to often use as little words as needed to tell its story, which is necessary for the viewer to actually see and understand. This is especially achieved by the fantastic, very subtle acting by Felix Kammerer. But this isn’t the only performance that’s great: Daniel Brühl plays his role very well, same can be said about Albrecht Schuch.

(This paragraph contains spoilers, you might want to skip to the next.) There is one thing that I found especially brilliant, and it’s one of my favorite things I‘ve seen in a movie all year. At one point in battle, Paul stabs someone, but once he is able to calm down enough to realize what he did, he runs back over to the slowly dying man - choking on his own blood - and tries to stop him from dying. When that doesn‘t work, he pockets the strangers‘ papers and gives a promise. In other movies, this promise is where a hero journey would begin, some reclaim of innocence maybe, where change would happen within, where tragedy would need to become meaningful. Not this movie. There is only one short moment where this is ever brought up again, and even there it‘s never actually plainly addressed: Paul notices that he has lost the papers. That‘s it. And it‘s so brilliant. War is not there for you to learn life lessons, it won‘t make you a better person, you won’t get your innocence back, there won’t be a happy ending, and the act of killing can‘t be made less senseless. 

Erich Maria Remarque constructed a story about the wounds a soul will carry from war - Edward Berger manages to show that visually.

If you manage to find a screening of this, I suggest you watch it on the biggest screen possible. This is a movie that has some lengths, and my fear is that watching this at home on Netflix will make people become distracted or bored. It is a movie that deserves your full attention, and only if you allow yourself to fully commit until the very end, you will experience this movie in all of its intensity. The ending masterfully summarizes the senselessness of war; and when All Quiet on the Western Front ends in complete silence, when the lights go on and no one in the entire theater dares to speak, it will follow you around and weigh heavy on your mind. Finding the right words will be hard as there is nothing to say - without many words, the movie already said it all.  Maybe we need to be haunted.

Block or Report

lea 🌷 liked these reviews