Green. Warm. Rarely used.
Paul Bäumer sees the name embroidered on the uniform tag:Heinrich- the name of another person. In line, in his underwear, he shows his name to the clerk who delivered it. The uniform, says Paul, must belong to someone else.
“Probably too small for the boy,” says the soldier. "Happens all the time." He tears off his uniform insignia and drops it to the ground, joining dozens of others that are scattered at his feet.
The uniform was not too small for Heinrich. But he does not belong to her. No more.
Although Heinrich never returned, the uniform did. Bullet holes have been sewn up. The blood has been bleached. Here in World War I, uniforms outlast those who wear them.
They should. Wool is scarce. Men are not.
But that is changing. As the Great War rages on in 1917, it destroys the youth of Europe. Paul is part of a dwindling generation, sent into battle with little more than patriotic fervor.
"You have a chance to earn the right to wear the uniforms you've been given!" Paul's teacher called on his class a few days before. “The future of Germany is in the hands of its best generation!”
And so inspired, Paul and his friends signed up. It didn't matter that Paul was 17, too young to volunteer without his parents' permission. It doesn't matter that his parents had never given him permission. But the German military isn't rigorously checking parental signatures these days, not with the war in its fourth year. One forged signature later, and Paul is a soldier, proudly marching in front.
The uniform has seen more battles than young Paul. In his fabric, perhaps, memories are sewn. The mud, the blood, the flecks of mustard gas, the faint smell of burning flesh.
Paul doesn't see: he only sees the road ahead on this sunny day, as he and his closest friends move on. He just listens to the songs of his fellow soldiers, ready to kill some Frenchmen. He just smells like glory.
Soon you will smell what war really smells like.
All calm on the west frontIt's the most damning war accusation you'll ever see. And perhaps this observation itself is an indirect positive. Remembering the horrors of war is also a reminder not to enter conflict lightly.
But in the midst of war, people (all men, given the film's 1917-18 time period) come together in ways that, perhaps, would have been impossible in peacetime. When soldiers suffer so much together, when they are asked to potentially save each other's lives every morning, they become, to a great extent, like brothers.
We see it here. Paul is "lucky" to spend most of his time in the war still with his best friends from school. But he also makes a new friend, perhaps his best friend. Stanislaus Katczinsky-"Kat" for short-has been at the helm a little longer than Paul and his schoolmates. He makes a special effort to help Paul, especially, to acclimatize at the front. Over time, the two become nearly inseparable and do their part to help each other and their companions survive each day to come.
It's not until much later in the film that we find out just how different Paul and Kat are from each other, so different that, in peacetime, they probably never would have spoken to each other. When the polite Paul suggests that they should hang out once in a while after the war, Kat reminds him that he is an illiterate shoemaker. "What are we going to do?" Kat asks. "Soled shoes together?"
As the war winds down, we see some historical figures trying to get an armistice. The center of that unity is Matthias Erzberger (a true historical figure), who does everything possible to end the war in order to save thousands and thousands of lives. "We'll find mercy where we can," he tells his fellow Germans, hoping the French will ease some of the armistice demands. "But for God's sake, let's bring peace."
That scene above isn't the only time we hear Erzberger call on God's name. In real life, the political figure was a leading member of Germany's Catholic Center Party, and the film perhaps implies that Erzberger's Catholic faith helps fuel some of his ambitions to stop the war.
Apart from that, however, faith suffers along with men.
Paul and his friends go to a Christian school, or so it seems from a cross hanging in the window (which the audience looks up as the teacher delivers his martial motivation lesson).
The next time we see a cross on the wall, it is in a church that functions as a makeshift hospital, full of patients, limbs, blood and screams. We hear excerpts from Scripture from war-weary (and, at this moment, celebrating) soldiers pleading for God's mercy and making reference to the "Lamb of God." It's hard to tell if these drunken, revelry soldiers are particularly devoted: one runs up to Paul and shouts, "Knock on the monastery door, and you'll find only thieves and scoundrels!"
We hear crude jokes and comments alluding to both Jesus and the thighs of his mother, Mary. A German general tells his soldiers that God is on his side.
During a break, one of Paul's friends, Albert Kropp, is out with a threesome of three girls. He returns late that night, with a handkerchief from one of the young maidens as a souvenir. He describes the quality of the woman's skin to Paul and mentions her breasts, and Kropp's friends pass around the handkerchief to sniff and keep as a joke.
Another friend of Paul's, Ludwig, sees Kropp out with the women and clearly wants to be brave enough to join in. (Kropp temporarily disappears for the appointment.) He talks longingly about physical intimacy and tells his friends that if there wasn't a war, he'd be quite active in that department. “I went eight days without wearing pants,” he says. Later, Ludwig finds a poster depicting a young woman (clothed). He tears off the part of the poster that shows the woman and takes it with him. The poster fragment seems to become almost like a real woman to Ludwig, and when Paul looks at the "two" (perhaps wondering about the sanity of his friend), Ludwig asks Paul if he is jealous.
We see shirtless men. There is a reference to combing your pubic hair. Kat describes how beautiful her wife is to Paul, and a letter from her can have a double meaning. Kat advises her fellow soldiers to stick their hands in their underwear if they're cold. A police officer compares a dirty gun to a "dirty girl."
All calm on the west frontit deals with the horrors of war and portrays those horrors graphically. I will not detail every moment of violence here; instead, we're going to take on the subject more broadly, perhaps tackling some of the film's most difficult moments.
People, countless people, are shot to death. More are stabbed or stabbed, by means of axes, bayonets and daggers. The film wants to do the carnage we see.friends: Hand-to-hand battles here don't feel like war so much as outright murder. (The film contrasts these terrifyingly brutal scenes with moments gone by with the German commanding general, who is sitting by the fire and gorging himself on good food. "It's been 50 years without war," he tells an aide as he mops up the grease. in pants . . "What is a soldier without war?")
World War I introduced a host of new ways of killing, and we see them in action. Soldiers are run over by tanks and we see their bodies reduced to meat and dripping with blood. Others are immolated by flamethrowers. Dozens of bodies are found in a building, victims, they say, of a gas attack. The grenades are thrown and find their targets. Artillery fire erupts, sending people flying, dead and alive. Buildings collapse on the soldiers who are still alive. Some make it, others don't.
Corpses (mainly men, but also horses) are everywhere. One of Paul's first tasks is to participate in the German version of dog tags to identify the dead: he finds a friend of his, his face blown away by an explosion, one leg missing at the knee. Soldiers walk through pools of blood. Half a human corpse hangs from a tree, 30 or 40 feet high. There he blew it up, they say, by an artillery shot.
But that's not enough carnage, apparently, to drive home the point.
In an excruciating scene, we see a French and German soldier fighting in the crater left by an artillery shell. The German eventually stabs the Frenchman several times, but the man is not killed. Instead, he chokes and gurgles blood until the German shovels dirt into his mouth. It's still not enough: for minutes, maybe hours, this little struggle for life goes on, the German covering his ears while the Frenchman mumbles, until the German decides to save the man. Look at the bloody wounds, he wipes the dirt from his face and around his mouth. At that moment, the Frenchman exhales his last breath from him. The German finds his wallet and a photo of the man's wife and daughter.
In another scene, a wounded man (who has terrible injuries to his leg) is given food and a fork. He promptly stabs himself several times in the neck with the implement, bleeding as his friends try to save him and another soldier looks on coldly, as if to say that such atrocities are as common as mosquitoes.
Returning to the armistice discussions, Erzberger and others talk about the casualty rates of the war: Nearly 40,000 soldiers died in the weeks before the discussions began. When a German looks at the armistice and is horrified by the proposed terms (that Germany would be no worse off simply following the war to its conclusion), Erzberger adds: "Except with a few hundred thousand extra deaths."
Rude or profane language
Most of the film is in German and there is some discrepancy between what we hear in the English dub and what we read in the subtitles. With that context in mind, we're exposed to two f-words and about 10 s-words. Also pronounced: "a-", "b-tard", "d-n", "h-" and the British profanity "bloody". God's name is misused five times, once with the word "curse."
Drug and alcohol content
Government officials and employees drink wine. During a scene of revelry, the soldiers appear to be quite drunk.
Other negative elements
Kat, Paul, and other soldiers spend a lot of time talking while using the latrine. (We see her bare legs, but nothing else.) Several people urinate and one accidentally urinates on her shoe when the train stops unexpectedly.
Paul and Kat raid a farm multiple times, once successfully making off with a dead goose. “When you're starving, you do anything,” says Kat. They are hailed as heroes when they return with their loot.
A general makes a tragic and monstrous decision.
As the war comes to an end, Paul confesses to Kat that he is worried about going home. The war changed him. It changed them all.
“Everyone wants to know the battles we've been in,” he says. And both he and Kat know that what they have seen and experienced they will never tell anyone. It's too awful. Very painful.
all quiet in the westFront comes, then, with an inescapable irony: the horrors that Paul always wanted to keep hidden are the very horrors that the film does its best to portray.
The original book, by Erich Maria Remarque, was published in 1929. And it's just as dark, just as brutal. Some European countries, often when preparing for war, labeled the book as anti-military propaganda. Just four years after its publication, the new Nazi regime in Germany declared it "degenerate" and made it one of the first books to be thrown on their bonfires.
Certainly both the book and the film reinforce the idea that war is a waste: a senseless, unnecessary, and immoral waste.
Perhaps there is a place for such works. Surely,All calm on the west frontit's a well made, painfully dark and terrifyingly brutal movie. But we know, in the end, that even if Paul survives the war, part of him will have died on that Western Front. The rest of him will be haunted by what he saw, heard, and lost.
“We are defenseless like children and experienced like old people”, says Paulo in the bookAll calm on the west front🇧🇷 "We are rough, sad and superficial, I think we are lost".
If Paul is lost, if he wishes he could stop seeing what he saw, maybe we should be careful not to see what he saw, too. Even in the safety of a screen. Even from the comfort of the sofa.
Parents, get practical insights from a Biblical worldview to help guide media decisions for your children!