Perhaps one of the most well done war films of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is a stunning film. An all encompassing film about World War One, All Quiet on the Western Front has been preserved by the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and seen as “historically, culturally and aesthetically significant.” While all this information praises the great film I think even more talking is my opinion of it. I believe my opinion is important not because I have a big head but because I generally dislike war films but I thought this film was fantastic.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows a group of young men that enlist in the German Army during World War I. The film goes through all aspects of war, beginning with basic training where they meet the strict training officer Himmelstoss (John Wray). After training the group is sent out into the field. Paired with a platoon of veteran soldiers, the young group finds a mentor named Katczinsky who helps them find food and learn how to take cover. Despite Katczinsky’s help, the group loses a man during night patrol and their numbers continue to dwindle as they delve further and further into the war. We watch as the fresh recruits become veterans as they fight their way through battles and are forced to deal with losing their friends and comrades.
This film manages to analyze more aspects of war than most war films have time for. Hunger, living conditions, the battles, dealing with loss, insanity, war hospital’s and returning from the war are all covered. For most of the film the soldiers are desperate for food, not eating for days on end. When they do get food they only get a small amount and they must battle away the rats if they have any extra food to store. There is a lot of death in this film and the men deal with it differently. Some men cannot handle the constant death and pressure and start to lose their minds. Others have trouble accepting the death, risking their lives to bring back corpses or carrying a dead body to the medics, not able to accept it as dead.
If you haven’t seen the end of this film you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph. The end of the film is an example of cinematic genius. During the devastating end of the film, in which one of the only living characters is killed after going back to the front lines, each character that has passed during the film is honored. The scene begins with a crane shot of a graveyard filled with white crosses. Juxtaposed over the graveyard is a shot of the main characters marching with their backs to the camera. As they pass the camera, each man looks over his shoulder directly into the camera. Juxtaposed over the graveyard, giving the walking men an almost ghostly effect, this was an outstanding ending honoring all the men we had lost during the film.
Again, All Quiet on the Western Front taught me not to judge a film based on the year it was made. I did not have much faith in a war film made in 1930 but it ended up being the best war film I have ever seen. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Writing. Director Lewis Milestone took home the Oscar for Best Director and the film beat The Big House, Disraeli, the Divorcee and The Love Parade for Best Picture. This film is an example of cinematic brilliance. I give this an A+, a film that everybody should see at some point in their lives.