All Quiet on the Western Front Review



Paul and his brothers in arms moving through a trench

The Netflix adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front is finally out and has already seen many positive reviews. There have been previous movies about the book, however, they came out in 1979 and 1930 respectively. The book was released in 1928 and sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in the first 18 months.

The book was successful because the writer, Erich Maria Remarque, was conscripted into the Imperial German Army at the age of 18. He was transferred to the Western Front on June 12th, 1917. On the 26th of June, he was assigned to the 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment, where he fought in the trenches between the Belgian towns of Torhout and Houthulst. On July 31st. 1917 he was wounded by an artillery shell shrapnel in the left leg, right arm, and neck. After this, he was in the hospital for the rest of the war.

When the war ended, the death of his mother and the atrocities of war that he witnessed caused him a lot of trauma and grief. This prompted him to use “Maria” as his middle name to honor his mother. Once he published All Quiet on the Western Front, he changed his surname Remark to an older spelling, Remarque.

In 1933, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared that Remarque’s writing was “unpatriotic” and was banned in Germany. He would later move to Switzerland and then the United States just before the Second World War, he became a naturalized citizen in 1947.

The book became very popular because it was from the German side of the war, by 1917, with very poor logistics, a high casualty rate, the Americans entering the war, and the British naval blockade of Germany, the German people were at their breaking point. The war needed to end with a German victory or the people would revolt.

In 1916, the Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command or OHL) effectively took control of the government and the empire’s day-to-day life. Paul von Hindenburg was the leader of the OHL, however, he left most of the governance to Erich Ludendorff. Ludendorff effectively turned the country into a Stratocracy while the German emperor was turned into a mere figurehead. This set the stage for the collapse of the German Empire, All Quiet on the Western Front shows the last days of the war from the point of view of the common soldier.

The point of view from the eyes of the common soldier is what brought the book to popularity. It helps people truly understand what the war was like outside of the history books. Most people read about larger parts of the war, without quite understanding the level of destruction and carnage a single person witnessed. It brings the history people studied in their history classes to a new level.

The movie starts out in the trenches of France in 1917, where we follow a man named Heinrich as he prepares to charge the French trench. As the whistle is blown the first wave climbs out of the trenches and charges into French lines. As he’s charging, his friends die around him from machine gun fire or artillery. Eventually, Heinrich is killed and his body is recovered after the battle. His body is stripped of his clothing and along with dozens of other uniforms are thrown into a truck. They are transported to a cleaning area and their uniforms are washed of blood, repaired of any damage, and sent back to be given to the next man for the meat grinder.

Another scene that is hard to watch is when the French counterattack the German’s advance. As they retreat from the French tanks and flamethrowers, the main character Paul falls into a deep crater hole and decides to hide as the French army continues to rout the Germans. As Paul is catching his breath, a French soldier finds him before he can kill Paul, he is knocked into the crater with him by a shell from artillery. Paul quickly crawls over to him and begins stabbing him with his knife. He stabs him a few times and then lies down to catch his breath. However, the Frenchman begins choking on his own blood. Paul grabs some dirt and puts it in his mouth to keep him quiet. Paul is freaking out as he realizes what he just did, so he begins trying to help him in vain. After he dies, he apologizes to him and begins searching his uniform. He finds a note presumably from his family.

These scenes show the brutality of war and the never-ending meat grinder that was the Western Front of World War I. The lengths soldiers will go to kill others that their governments view as enemies that need to be put in their place in order to get their place in the sun. This is why All Quiet on the Western Front and other works need to be remembered. War is not some adventure where you’ll earn glory for your nation. People die on a mass scale in the blink of an eye. This is the message of All Quiet of the Western Front.

History buffs will enjoy this movie, but general audiences should watch it as they will have a real understanding of a soldier’s life. It doesn’t glorify war, it does not choose a side in the war. It gives a view of the common soldier and his story so that it will be remembered for generations to come.