Rating : *****
Set during the first World War, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a shocking look into the lives of everyday soldiers during the Great War.
The film won the Best Picture Academy Award and was the third movie to do so. With a wonderful cast and a great message to give to the world it is truly one of the greatest films ever made.
I’m happy to start with this film as its one that haunts me every time I watch it.
The film is seen through the eyes of a group of young German men who decided to join the army after a patriotic speech from their teacher about how they should go and fight for their country and make it proud.
The film isn’t about giving us reasons for war, it isn’t about seeing heroes and villains or showing us victories or losses. The film focuses on the experiences of young men who go to war, not because they believed in it or even understood the reasons for it, but because people told them it was the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the only way to keep their way of life and country safe. It followed them as they trained, as they got used to the sounds of gunfire and bombs whilst they slept, as they lost each other to fighting and disease, coming to terms with that loss and then carrying on anyway.
More then any film in modern times that like to give us a good vs evil narrative, make it seem like there is a us and them, this movie showed that the people fighting the war, actually on the front lines, were normal people. Normal people who became disillusioned with it but had nothing else they could do when they started. People who had been told that this was the most grand and important job they’ll ever have. It also didn’t relay on brutality to get across the brutality of being in the trenches. There was no real blood and gore but well placed close ups, moving speeches and a soundtrack simply made of the sound of gunfire.
The opening speech of the teacher telling the kids to “do the right thing for the fatherland” is actually one of the scariest things you’ll see on the TV because it shows how the right words can lead anyone to do just about anything. It’s a simple way to get into people’s head, the ranting and raving about glories and playing on their patriotic side got the boys up in arms without ever questioning what the war was really about or how it was being fought.
Later on and you have the death of Barnes, as the others visit him he’s sure someone has stolen his watch, finds out his leg has been amputated and has to come to terms with this being the end. The other soldiers have to also deal with this as best they can.
My favorite scene was a conversation with the group about who wanted and started the war. It gave possibly one of the most powerful messages I’ve seen in films. They hadn’t started the war, they didn’t even know anyone from the countries they were fighting let alone have a problem with them. Yet the people who started the war, who wanted to go to war, weren’t there in the trenches with them.
I liked that message but I liked it even more because it was given by German soldiers, knocking down any them vs us notions, and it was also highlighted when Paul shoots a French soldier just to do his best to save his life afterwards.
The whole cast was great but the lead character Paul, played by Lew Ayers, was phenomenal. His final scene, which is the final scene of the movie, where he’s lost all his friends and is sitting in a trench when he see’s a butterfly and reaches into No Mans Land to touch it just to be shot dead is the final emotional punch in a movie that doesn’t just try to make you cry or feel sorry for the characters, the movie does both in buckets, but which makes you think. Constantly. Which portrayed the ‘enemies’ of the war as being normal people and made you look past the fact that it was the soldiers that become the focus of war but for them its just a job. They don’t actually make the wars, they don’t necessarily have a problem with the people they are at war with and its easy to fill young men, and women, with the notions of bravery, doing the best for your country and other patriotic mumble jumble that means little to nothing when they get left in the field to fight a war they don’t really have any stake in.
Well worthy the Oscar it received, one of the most powerful and touching movies I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.