A Look at World War I Film All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930, originated in the United States, directed by Lewis Milestone, and based upon the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque.

The scenario could seem to be that of any war movie, a class of young German men enlist in the army in search of idealistic heroism and honor. But this film takes a different, much more realistic approach. The young men enlist and, one by one, are killed on the battlefields of World War I. The film tracks their descent from naivet�© to disillusionment in the group of young men and focuses on the one young man who survives the longest on the front and his relationship with a veteran.

This film was made in the United States but is seen through the eyes of Germans as the novel it is based on was written by a German war veteran. This fact, along with the date of release (1930), helps to make the message of this film unmistakable. The film breaks the barriers of nationality and allegiance. The viewer cares for the main characters regardless of what side they were on. This film is an antiwar film released with the intention, perhaps, of making pacifism attractive to the public through its humanitarian approach. The public at that time was already leaning towards the thinking that war was horrific and should be avoided. This may have been reason enough for the producer to believe it would make money at the box office. But it did not. In fact, it was banned in some countries for one reason or another, basically, it was not good pro-war propaganda for countries that were mobilizing for war (especially Germany).

The two major characters include Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres), Katczinsky or “Kat” (Louis ] Wolheim. Paul is just one of the boys in his class that were blinded by the militaristic and nationalistic rants of their professor. The movie does not begin focusing on Paul but, as the other boys are killed, narrows down to him. Kat is an older man who has been a long while on the western front and acts as a mentor for the boys. Kat and Paul develop a close relationship. They form the type of bond that is characteristic of such traumatic situations. At one point in the movie, Paul is wounded and sent home on leave. He realizes then that the folks at home have no idea about the realities of war. They do not understand and he is not the same boy who left home enchanted by patriotism. His character symbolizes a coming of age and a coming into truth. Kat is an old pro at the war game, he offers little comic relief but he gives us hope, the hope that the men that know the truth, that have been through the horrific experience of kill or be killed can still be decent, loving human beings.

One of the most intriguing elements of the film is found in a pair of boots that were given to one of the young soldiers before he went to war by his uncle who was a veteran and are passed around the group of soldiers after the last one to wear them is killed in battle. These boots become a metaphor for the maddening and vicious cycle that occurs during the war. Men are trained and sent out to the front, killed and new men are just sent to replace them. In this film, the human life is depicted as being treated by war mongers as of less worth than a pair of old boots.

Paul acts as a deterrent to this cycle when he goes to his old school room while on leave. He is asked to tell the class of perspective soldiers of the honors of fighting for your country, of some heroic deed but he declines and tells something of the truth, that they stay in the trenches and try not to be killed. The man, it seems, becomes less than human on the front when Paul says that their bodies are earth and their thoughts are clay and that they eat and sleep with death. The pity is, that the strong nationalism felt by unknowing children prevents the truth from being heard, the school boys call Paul a coward and enlist anyway.

Paul loses everything in the war. First, he loses his illusionment, then his ability to fit in at home, his best friend, then his life. Paul’s best friend, Kat was one man who could not be c replaced in Paul’s life and who Paul was carrying on his back to the medic tent after an artillery attack, saved his life. After Paul lost Kat, he had not much left.

The other most impressive point made in this film emerges through a childhood hobby of Paul’s and the last scene of the film. As a child, Paul kept a butterfly collection and it is shown to us in the short time he spends at home; in the last scene, Paul eyes a butterfly, a sight of beauty foreign to the barren wasteland of the battlefield, and reaches his hand out to it while, at the same time, making himself vulnerable to oncoming fire. He is killed in this most beautiful and distressful ending. Paul reached for the delicate symbol of life and resurrection much like he reached out to the children of the class room and to Kat, but this time he is killed and delivered from the pains of war.

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