Produced in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front is still one of the most realistic depictions of World War I ever committed to film (the harrowing scenes depicting charges across no-mans-land under heavy enemy fire seem, at times, preferable to the slow death of life in the filthy, overcrowded trenches). Yet this impressive realism remains an after-thought in any discussion of the film, because All Quiet on the Western Front is, first and foremost, one of the most effective anti-war movies of all time.
The early scenes, in which Paul Baumer (played by Lew Ayres) and his school friends are swayed to enlist by the patriotic words of their schoolmaster are sharply contrasted by the young men's arrival in the trenches, where they're greeted by veterans who have seen enough of war, and have grown (to say the least) cynical and stoic. It's an attitude the young recruits themselves will shortly adopt. After killing an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. then remaining trapped in a fox-hole with the dead soldier's body, Baumer himself has reached his breaking point. A trip home following an injury only serves to deepen his resentment of the war (punctuated in a great scene where Baumer revisits his old schoolmaster, who's still spewing his patriotic rhetoric to a new group of young men). Deeply affected by battle, and now a stranger to the society he left behind, Baumer grows increasingly despondent, a walking casualty of a war he no longer believes in.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a rarity: a classic film depicting a war long forgotten, yet delivering a message that is, and will forever be, quite timely.
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