All Quiet on the Western Front may have been the first runaway international bestseller for Erich Maria Remarque, but its utter lack of pro-German propaganda and honest, downbeat look at war made the book a Nazi target. So, in 1930, when Universal Pictures released the film into theaters, its cinematic adaptation would go on to grab two Oscars for Best Picture and its director Lewis Milestone.
In addition to the 1979 adaptation starring Richard Thomas (The Waltons), director Edward Berger’s 2022 version has revived the controversy with this gripping story of a young German soldier on the Western Front of World War I. Paul (Felix Kammerer)and his comrades experience first-hand how the initial euphoria of war turns into desperation and fear as they fight for their lives, and each other, in the trenches.
Being the child of a Marine who never discusses his experiences in Vietnam, it is always difficult to watch these types of films for me. As, it is never lost on me that at any give time, my family could have been without its patriarch, father, husband, brother and son.
Mostly told from the German perspective, the horrors and gore of war are not spared while seeing just how enthusiastic young people are to serve their country regardless of the circumstances. One cinematic them that haunts me to this day is watching a young Paul grab and log the tags of his fallen comrades only to have him meet the same untimely fate later. It broke my heart to watch how a human being has to train their psyche to kill no matter what. I can’t even imagine what having an act like that permeate your conscience for eternity and find a way to sleep at night – if at all. Not to mention, having to hide you ethnic identity as it may possibly have a bearing on how and you fight is all too reminiscent of how Colored troops were treated time and time again.
Felix Kammerer expertly carries this film on his shoulders and his riveting to watch ashis innocence soiled with the realities of fighting in a war.
James Friend is a cinematic magician in how he navigates the fox hole scenes which are more than difficult to shoot. Yet, he makes it looks effortless. In additon to directing Berger produced and co-adapted the screenplay alongside Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell who accomplished it all during the pandemic without stepping foot on set (as I was told by Paterson).
War and all that comes with it is emotionally and sometimes physically scarring for those on the front lines. As citizens of the world, no one ever wants a war to break out, but I think we can all agree that those who have been brave enough to risk their lives are not given the respect and due diligence they deserve.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a bold, in your face chronicle of war at its worst, yet somehow manages to share the humanity of those proud to represent and keep their citizens safe by any means necessary.