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All Quiet on the Western Front review: A haunting reminder about the horrors of The Great War

The latest adaptation of the best-selling eponymous novel by Erich Maria Remarque is a tragic retelling of the lives of German soldiers in the trenches during World War I

All Quiet on the Western Front review: A haunting reminder about the horrors of The Great War

Last Updated: 02.35 PM, Feb 26, 2024


Story: A young German named Paul Bäumer is excited to join the war efforts on the Western Front along with his classmates. But they soon realise the grim realities of the trenches and the horrors of one of the most brutal and bloody wars in human history.


Review: There has never been a dearth of war films, especially those focusing on both World Wars. Over the years, films and TV shows such as Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Dunkirk, and Band of Brothers have emphasised the gut-wrenching perils of war, instead of romanticising the ‘glory’ of war. The ideas of pacifism were also integral to the Academy-award winning 1930 Hollywood adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front. While the film was certainly an excellent adaptation for its time, the 2022 German adaptation by Edward Berger is a more compelling and visually striking film than any previous adaptation.


The writers have made several changes to the novel, and to their credit, it has enhanced the cinematic value of the story. The cinematography and the frames are designed to invoke a sense of tragedy in a manner similar to early 20th-century modernist art such as John Singer Sargent’s iconic painting Gassed. The film is told through the eyes of its lead, Paul Bäumer, played by the excellent Felix Kammerer. The fear, hunger, the feeling of helplessness, and even the moments of brief joy when the soldiers are able to have warm food, are almost palpable. The life of a soldier in the trenches in World War I was possibly more harrowing than those in World War II, purely based on the style of warfare adopted by nations during the First World War.


While ‘anti-war’ is the most significant theme of the film, there is also a focus on how a false sense of pride by those in power cost the lives of millions of young men — essentially wiping out a whole generation. This is conveyed through the German General who has never been to the frontlines but continues to send in thousands of young new recruits into battle even on the day of Armistice on the 11th of November 1918. The antithesis of this character is highlighted through Matthias Erzberger, a real-life German politician who was instrumental in signing the Armistice to end the war. Erzberger is essayed by Daniel Brühl who has become one of the most prominent German actors in recent years for his excellent performances in popular films such as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and in Ron Howard’s Rush as Formula One legend Niki Lauda.


Another interesting aspect of the film is the fact that the 1930 Hollywood adaptation was banned in Germany by the Nazis, calling it a ‘Jew film’ and it was used by the Third Reich as a tool of mass propaganda against the Jewish community. And nearly a century later, the Germans released a new adaptation of the film which is arguably more poignant and compelling than its predecessor. The 2022 film excels in terms of its technical prowess and offers rich subtext scrutinising people’s perception of patriotism and how it was used, and continues to be used, as means to glorify the armed forces across the globe.


Verdict: All Quiet on the Western Front is neither a taut thriller nor is it a scintillating action film. It is in fact a slow, gritty, grounded, and harrowing tale of a German soldier barely surviving in the trenches over the course of World War I, as each of his friends and comrades suffer horrifying deaths at the end of every battle. The film is a near-authentic recreation of the horrors and tragedies of war, and it will probably be regarded as essential viewing in the years to come.


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