As a film that shows the public how terrible, devastating and pointless war is, All Quiet On The Western Front was criticized and even banned by various political leaders during the 1930’s. Directed by Lewis Milestone, All Quiet On The Western Front is based on a novel written by a German veteran and tells the story of a group of German boys who are encouraged by their professor to join the army during World War One. Professor Kantorek is a man who sees the army as something sacred and whose motivational speeches prompt the young students in his class to associate war with beautiful and noble ideals. However, not long after the boys are enlisted, one of them gets killed and the others join their unit, where soldiers are not welcoming at all and there isn’t enough food for everyone. This scene clearly aims at emphasizing the difference between empty words and reality, as the glorious world that professor Kantorek had conveyed through his speeches clearly did not reflect the difficulties and misery witnessed by soldiers.
When the boys visit the trenches, one of them – Behn- is mutilated by flying shrapnel and ends up getting killed during a bombardment. The unit then proceeds towards the front where they have to stay in a dirty bunker for several days. Here, soldiers are forces to live alongside rats, don’t have sufficient food and, when they try to escape, they get published by their superiors for being cowards. In other words, what seemed to be an extremely rewarding and instructive experience quickly turns out to be a nightmare from which nobody can run away. This is what war really is.
When soldiers are finally sent back to the kitchens, they are served more food as many of their companions have died. Everybody eats greedily and some men start talking about war, its causes and effects. Kat, one of the young boys, maintains that war doesn’t really concern them and that the European leaders who have declared war on each other should be made to fight against each other in order to resolve their issues in such a way not to damage anyone else. Once again, the romantic ideals that had been initially attached to war are being reconsidered from a much more practical and realistic point of view.
In a later scene we see Paul Baumer, one of the students, stabbing a French enemy to death. However, he then gets stuck in a shell crater with his victim’s body and does his best to keep him alive by keeping him company and giving him water to drink. When Paul is left alone with the French soldier he killed, he finally realizes that war is not as great was he thought he was. His desperation becomes particularly evident when he starts crying, begging his dead victim to speak to him and forgive him for what he did. Being severely wounded, both Paul and his friend Kropp are sent to a Catholic hospital, where the doctors decide to amputate Kropp’s leg. This is probably one of the most moving parts of the entire film, as it sheds light on some of the most unpleasant consequences of war, such as resignation, mutilation and death. For example, when Kropp realizes that he has lost his leg but can still feel his toes, it is very hard not to see war as a cruel and futile thing.
At a later stage, Paul is granted a temporary leave and goes back to his hometown, where everybody seems to believe that Germany will soon take control of Paris and professor Kantorek is still giving patriotic speeches to his students. He then returns to the front, where he gets killed by a sniper while trying to grab a beautiful butterfly.
Thanks to its realism and accurate account of warfare, All Quiet on the Western Front has been recently defined as one of the best war films ever made (Chilton “All Quiet on the Western Front, film review”). After all, it cannot be denied that for a low-budget film that was produced at a time when actors were still getting used to the idea of sound films (also known as talkies), All Quiet On The Western Front is incredibly realistic and places great emphasis on the main actors’ facial expressions, which play a very important role in helping the audience understand how they are feeling. For instance, the scene where soldiers walk away from the camera and suddenly look back without saying a word clearly shows how scared, confused and tired they were.
- Chilton, Martin. “All Quiet on the Western Front, film review”. 29 April 2015. Web. 25 October 2015.