As the first world war unfolded, which was then known as the great war, since they didn’t know there’d be a second, Germany’s propaganda machine recruited its young men as soldiers. A group of teenagers enlist voluntarily in the army, their faces full of fervor and optimism. But those preconceptions about the honor of war crumble very quickly as they see their first conflict and they realize they put themselves into a situation where it does not appear there is a way out. The hopelessness, the utter despair, the terrifying fear consume the boys as they are falling, one by one. In the end, when an armistice is negotiated by the brass, riding in luxury train cars and sipping wine, the boys are sent out one more time in the last 20 minutes before cease fire.
This movie has been made twice before. The other two are Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and the lesser-known version by Delbert Mann, All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). This current rendition is supposedly the most expensive German film in the history of Netflix. My wife loaded it up and we found it is a German film, dubbed in English. Which, of course, was better for her, but I would have liked to watch it in its original language. Yet I don’t think I can do it again, it took too much out of me.
The uselessness and injustice of war depressed me, as many war movies will do. Every leader who is in a position of sending other people’s children into harm’s way should be required to watch All Quiet on the Western Front. This happened in 1917, and a hundred years later we still haven’t learned these basic lessons.
Of course, the irony is that the French won that war and forced the Germans into reluctant submission. They ended up signing an agreement they knew they ultimately could not accept. We all know that a young soldier named Adolf Hitler was also a grunt in that war and experienced the humiliation of Germany first-hand. It lit up a fire in the chest of that young man, and we all know where it ended.