Review: All Quiet on the Western Front
Shagnick Bhattacharya can find no faults with Netflix’s reimagining of the anti-war classic
Among the latest releases on Netflix has been the film All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the 1929 novel ‘Im Westen nichts Neues’ written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War. The film intends to, and does succeed in, depicting the futility of war. Set in the final few days of the war, the story unfolds for the most part from the perspective of ordinary German soldiers and their experiences of the war, while at other times it shifts to present us with a contrasting image relating to the circumstances of signing of the armistice. The contrast herein lies not only in how negotiations of peace are taking place at the very same time and place where hundreds of ordinary soldiers are still fighting fiercely against each other and dying, but also in specific scenes like ones where the ordinary soldier is seen suffering from the pangs of hunger, getting at times only boiled potato and broth to eat, and occasionally having to steal food at the risk of their lives, while the members of the high command – their very own leaders – are seen having lavish and extensive breakfasts.
There is nothing about film, directed by Edward Berger, honestly, that I would want to criticise. From the beginning to the end, it’s absolutely perfect in every aspect – from visual components like cinematography, screenplay, props and sets and make-up to aspects like storytelling and the intense and impactful background score. The action scenes are extremely realistic, and the film does not shy away from showing gore and injuries and death in a highly detailed manner. The film gives us highly detailed insights into the nauseating level of mental trauma and physical injury that the soldiers of the Great War had to go through.
From the beginning to the end, it’s absolutely perfect in every aspect – from visual components like cinematography, screenplay, props and sets and make-up to aspects like storytelling and the intense and impactful background score.
What I liked the most about this film is how it never tries to establish ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – all participants in the war are equally morally dubious and guilty of the war. For instance, in one scene a German soldier is seen mercilessly fighting and killing French soldiers when the former is attacking the latter’s trenches, but when the latter counterattack and overpower the former, the very same German soldier is seen begging for mercy from French troops, who then go on to brutally murder their captor by setting him on fire. The war, thus, essentially becomes more about surviving than fighting, for all sides involved.
The ending was beautifully tragic and emotional, and it brings up a complex side of human emotions – the side where you want to kill another fellow human being at one moment, but literally a minute after that when the clock strikes eleven, you feel sad for your former enemy’s mortal wound. But then had the enemy lying dead in front of you hadn’t died, you wouldn’t have been alive to see him dead. War is a nasty thing, and as the credits start rolling, it is only apt that there is no background music accompanying it – just absolute silence.
An earlier adaptation of the novel as a film of the same title from 1930 was also a cinematic gem, which was awarded the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director in its time. Indeed, it does seem that history is about to repeat itself again. It was announced in August that the film would be Germany’s submission for the Oscars for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. I do believe that this film completely deserves to get the award, and here’s to hoping that it does!