All Quiet on the Western Front
Director: Edward Berger
Date Created: 2022-10-28 00:00
I just spent the last 2 and a half hours on the frontlines of war and I cannot tell you how relieved I am that the immaculately portrayed reality of All Quiet on The Western Front is not my present reality.
I write this from the comfort of my bed, where there are no guns, bombs, or knives aimed at me. What a blessing.
All Quiet on The Western Front Plot Summary
All Quiet on the Western Front starts with a beautiful, natural opening shot. The quiet wildlife contrasts with the bloody death of thousands right off the bad.
So much blood.
We’re dropped right into war with bodies hitting the floor left and right. *cue Let the Bodies Hit the Floor by Drowning Metal*
Forgive me. Humor is my coping mechanism.
Death feels imminent as a young timid soldier is forcefully pushed from the cover of the trenches into the blood-drenched battlefields.
One by one, his comrades are fatally hit, yet our young timid soldier remains physically unscathed.
The luck and misfortune of surviving.
With nothing left to lose, the soldier unsheathes an ax and drives it through the nearest opponent as the screen goes black.
The immediate intensity reels you in before leaving you with the sight of the aftermath.
Bloody bodies are being gathered like cattle after a slaughter.
Imagine how callous one must be to deal with all the dead bodies.
We see this dreary image of the bloody clothes of the dead soldiers being washed and recycled, preparing the next batch of troops for their fate.
We meet this next batch of troops: young, excited, and painfully naive.
The film’s protagonist, Paul, forges his parent’s signature in order to join his friends on what they believe will be an exciting adventure to Paris at the frontlines of the war.
Little do they know what awaits them.
There’s this itching feeling I’m certain of. All of these friends will die.
The young men register for war and Paul receives his recycled uniform, still branded with the name of the deceased timid soldier we met a few minutes ago: Heinrich.
Paul, innocently thinking the uniform was meant for another new soldier, doesn’t realize that the fate of Heinrich will soon be his own.
Without an orientation, we’re thrust into the throes of war, our young soldiers hit with deadly gasses.
We learn who will be the first of Paul’s friends to die when a young man with elastic glasses fumbles terribly with putting his gas mask on.
Our protagonist makes the #1 mistake that would disappoint any flight attendant and helps his friend with his gas mask before putting on his own.
Predicted to die from the gasses that day, our protagonist’s natural luck and tenacity preserve him to endure only more traumas that come ahead.
The disillusionment of the war arrives quickly.
Dead bodies, draining muddy, flooded trenches, and constant anxiety.
We meet our wise old, hardened veterans of the frontlines. Those who’ve managed to survive battles of the past.
They guide the war newbies teaching them how to keep warm, sharing their unappetizing stale bread, and showing them the ropes.
Before we know it, we’re back on the battlefield again and just as predicted, the friend with the glasses is the first to go.
Paul endures his first of many traumatic losses in the war.
We see Paul and his remaining friends begin to harden and age, their teeth yellow and their skin dry and we take a break from intense war to enjoy these boys as people.
We see them yearn for pleasure above all, savoring the rare taste of a stolen goose, telling stories of their loved ones, and fantasizing over the touch of a woman.
At these drab war sites, we see so plainly what we live for and what we die for.
One of the boys is able to spend a night with a local French lady and brings back her scarf.
The way these boys pass around the scarf like it’s the latest most intoxicating drug on the market highlights the ways they’re starved beyond the means of food.
Even in the midst of a heated battle, the boys still take a moment to stuff their faces with the enemy’s food and chug muddy, probably worm-infested water because they’re not even guaranteed the basic need of sustenance as they fight for their country.
The boys’ lives are constantly degraded and this devaluation of life is brought to a head in one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes.
In self-defense, Paul must stab an opponent to death. But rather than run away from what he’s done, Paul is stuck in the watering hole with the man he stabbed choking on his blood and struggling to breathe.
As we see Paul mentally spiral as he’s face to face with his sins, it’s so evident that humans are not built to endure this kind of evil.
This is all too darn visceral.
And Felix Kammerer, the actor who plays Paul, is leaking and slobbering like a dang faucet. He acted the snot out of not only that scene but the movie entirely. Beyond phenomenal.
Paul looks up with his face half covered in dark mud, half covered in light mud. A metaphorical image of what war has done to him.
Parallel to this narrative of Paul facing the cruel realities of war are dry political discussions among those perpetrating the war.
Long story short, the Germans, the side that Paul fights for, are tired of losing so many men to war and want the war to end. The French have the upper hand but also rather not lose more men as well.
Both sides reach an agreement on an armistice that will start on the 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11th hour.
Thrilled by getting a break from war, the men begin to fantasize about what they’ll do once they return home.
One of their comrades, who was hoping to become a policeman is disheartened by the fact that his leg was destroyed in a recent battle.
When Paul and his close veteran friend, Kat, bring him soup with cutlery to celebrate returning home, their comrade uses the fork to stab himself to death.
Another man down.
Paul looks so young yet so old at the same time.
Once a gang of friends, it’s now just Paul and Kat.
To celebrate the war ending, Paul and Kat go back to the nearby farm to try to steal one last goose.
There is an eerie stillness in the air as we wait for Paul to sneak some chicken eggs instead into his pocket.
A calm before the storm.
It dawns on me – Kat is going to die.
Please don’t let this be how Kat dies, I helplessly plead on the edge of my seat.
But Kat and Paul escape the farmer’s poorly aimed shots as per usual and reach the far end of the plains, eating the eggs raw.
Kat excuses himself for one last moment in the woods and is met face-to-face with the farmer’s spiteful son.
The son shoots Kat and he doesn’t miss.
By the time Paul finds Kat and finishes dragging him all the way back to the infirmary, Kat has already passed.
How many times can you mourn the life of another loved one lost?
We see the last of the light Paul held drain from his eyes. He just doesn’t care anymore.
Especially when the war general decides to stage one last attack on the French right before the armistice takes hold. Paul doesn’t care.
Now the hardened veteran who guides the rookies into battle, Paul heartlessly zombies his way through the battlefield getting caught in a one-on-one fight with a French soldier.
Despite being almost drowned in the thick, soppy mud, Paul regains his footing and puts up a good fight.
Just when we think he’s safe, when we think he may have the upper hand, a bayonet finds its way through his heart from behind.
He’s stabbed so suddenly that we barely get to comprehend it.
And hardly a second later the 11 o’clock bells sound. Weapons down. The war is over.
In Paul’s last moments, as his breath leaves him, he looks over the peace of an ended war. A peace that he’ll never be able to revel in beyond these last few seconds.
At this moment, Paul is so human.
For the past two hours, we’ve watched him feel, hurt, grow, love, everything, and he’s not even tasted the full sweetness of life yet.
We think about the women he’ll never love, the children he’ll never have, the mother he’ll never hug again.
The bitter turn of events is that at the last second before his freedom, he reaches his end.
Perhaps it’s mercy. Protection from the mounds of PTSD that he’s accumulated.
At this moment, life is so frail.
All is quiet on the Western Front.
The next young soldier comes around to collect the tags of the dead, Paul’s first task when he joined the army.
The young soldier is shaken to see that his mentor is dead and he forgets to collect his tag.
Paul’s name will not be recorded among the dead.
What did Paul’s life mean at all?
Just another casualty of war?
All this war for what?
The silence that accompanies the end credits is far too loud.
The Making of All Quiet on The Western Front
Netflix so graciously made a short, 18-minute documentary about the making of this film which is the perfect debrief for a movie as heavy and emotional as this one.
It details the incredible amount of teamwork, expertise, and attention to detail that went into this masterpiece of a film that very rightly won several awards at the Oscars.
It shows how they made something constructed feel so real and expanded on their use of one-take shots to create an immersion within the action.
I’m overwhelmed by everything related to this film and am awestruck by the talent on and off-screen.
This 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front is the definition of excellence.
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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,