All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I absolutely get why people like this movie. It is a brutal and visually-impressive depiction of the mind-numbing violence and chaos of the First World War. It shows, unflinchingly, what it might have actually looked like to fight in those trenches.

For as good as that might be, however, it is not "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Erich Maria Remarque 1929 novel is not about the violence and chaos of The Great War, although that is an important part of the story. His novel is about the profound alienation of war, on the terrible toll it takes on those enlisted to fight it, and on the very real sense that even soldiers who survive can never really come home. Our cast of characters and the people they encounter aren't particularly decent or virtuous or strong or smart; they are simply lucky, until they aren't.

All of this is why arguably the most important part of the novel is Paul's return to his village, where he discovers the extent to which he no longer belongs, and from where he goes to fight again, and eventually, die.

And this gets to the problem with this film. It excises the thematic core of the novel in favor of a plot about the negotiations to end the war. I understand why it does this — it helps create a sense of tragedy, knowing that our protagonist dies just as the war ends — but not only is wholly unnecessary, it misses the point.

"All Quiet on the Western Front," the novel, is not about virtuous soldiers and cynical political and military leaders. It is about the folly of war, the dangers of blind patriotism and the alienation of the soul.

This movie seems to miss all of that in favor of a story that has some of the same beats, and some of the same characters, but none of what makes the original work tick.

I don't need adaptations to have total fealty to the original source material, but deviations should not fundamentally change the themes of that material, unless it's done so with care and for good reason. I'm afraid this movie does not fit that bill.

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