All Quiet on the Western Front: A History of War Machine and Reenactment
As the third film adaptation of Remarque’s masterpiece “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” directed by a German director and starring German actors finally allows the protagonist to have the right to speak his mother tongue. But that’s not its only uniqueness. The film abandons the passage in the original book where the protagonist, the German young Paul, and his friends receive military training, and directly throws them into the battlefield to experience the cruelty and emptiness of World War I. Such a creative choice exposed the weakness of the film’s plot to some viewers, but from another perspective, this may just confess the whole point of the film.
Compared with the meticulous first-person narrative method of describing the battlefield in the original book, the 2022 version of the movie “All Quiet on the Western Front” pays less attention to the individual, and more attention to the ruthless operation of the war machine. The film opens with a prologue with a strong sense of logic and extremely cold emotion: the trembling soldier Heinrich rushed out of the trench under the order of his superiors, saw his comrades fall down tragically, gave up the idea of living, rushed Go out of the shelter, run towards the enemy, and stab the oncoming French soldiers with a shovel…
Then the picture goes black. When it came back on, we were in a huge pile of corpses. After some sorting by the logistics soldiers, Heinrich’s remains appeared at the top of the pile of corpses. His uniform was confiscated, his boots were taken off, and thrown into pouches already filled with the clothing of other dead men—washed by laundresses, mended by weavers, and redistributed to recruits. When the protagonist Paul got his “new uniform”, Heinrich’s nametag was still on it.
Through this prologue, the film has laid bare its true concerns. This version of All Quiet on the Western Front is less concerned with the emotions and personalities of the soldiers, and instead focuses on how the war machine grinds them down. The choice of this theme is not because the director lacks humanitarian sentiments, but because in the structure of war, these soldiers are just fleshy gears swallowed by the war machine, and emotion and humanity are ultimately futile.
The new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” lacks the flashes of humanity and lyrical moments that were seen in the first two adaptations. After all, war has no lyricism in its essence. In a war where efficient killing is the highest purpose, the existence of human nature is not only absurd, but even cruel. Once a person goes to the battlefield, any awakening of humanity will bring danger; even pity and empathy for the enemy can only make the death of the other party more painful.
The movie presents this cruelty in an extreme scene. After witnessing Fa Xiao being burned to death by the French army with a flamethrower, Paul vented all his hatred on the French soldiers who were alone beside him. He stabbed the knife into the opponent’s chest again and again, but when the opponent groaned in pain, he felt compassion. He tried to stop the bleeding, gave him water, and spoke to him in his broken French. Of course, these efforts were of no avail, and the French soldier died in front of him after all, but the process took longer.
In the original book, Remarque explained Paul’s motivation for helping the enemy: If he was the one who was dying, he would hope to get a little warmth and kindness before he died. But I’m not sure if the director sees it the way Remarque does, or if the French soldier in the film who suffers more needlessly suffers the same way as Paul. In the face of the cruelty of war, the new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” rejects tenderness, which may be the most honest and moral position.
In terms of creative methods, the choice of the new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is commendable. It does not turn the war into a large-scale parkour game like “1917”, nor does it stick to the creed of individual heroism like “Blood Battle Hacksaw Ridge”. It tried to reaffirm to the public the brutal truth about World War I: over four years, more than 3 million soldiers died needlessly on the Western Front, while the front barely moved.
This is not the great war that people fantasized about. The tediousness and trivialities of trench warfare almost seem absurd. Young people come here with the ambition to make contributions. In addition to the raging war, they need to face hunger, cold, and endless trench repairs. The pain it caused was real, as was the wasting of lives. This makes us rejoice in the second half of the film for the young people who died as soon as they stepped into the battlefield: at least we don’t have to suffer endlessly in this purgatory on earth.
The new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” also tries to reveal the panorama of the entire war. In addition to the main line of the battlefield, the peace talks between Germany and France are also going on. The method of parallel switching between different clues in the film may be borrowed from “Dunkirk”, but at the specific execution level, it can be seen that its main creator is much clumsier than Nolan.
However, the portrayal of the German general in this branch line clearly expresses the film’s view on war: the martial general yearns to live in the glory of his father in the Bismarck era, but regrets that he was born at an untimely time and cannot enjoy the illustrious military exploits. He was often accompanied by delicious food and wine, but it was difficult for the young man who died for him to have a decent meal. Under the instigation of public opinion by the state apparatus and the deception of their revered elders, these young people really thought that they were fighting for the glory of the motherland and God, and that their souls would ascend to the Hall of Valor after death.
Such a comparison may seem too straightforward. But this does not stem from the laziness of artistic techniques, but because such straightforward lies and traps have been repeated time and time again in history. With the rise of right-wing forces and the rise of populism, how many young people in the world have been indoctrinated with hatred and went to the battlefield, and how many people are stirring up right and wrong and encouraging division, just because there is profit in the process, and because they are not accepted Young people who are fully educated and do not have the ability to think independently are so easy to be used, and their hormones that have nowhere to release are so easily misled?
Everyone knows that war is a hell, and everyone knows that the battlefield will turn people into beasts, but the same tragedy is still happening again and again. Because of the greed of politicians and dignitaries, because of institutional injustice and information barriers, generations of Paul, with blood in their hearts, voluntarily went to the battlefield under deception and temptation.
”All Quiet on the Western Front” – All Quiet on the Western Front. A hundred years have passed, and the deafening silence is still shrouded.