-All Quiet On The Western Front, Ch. 10”
― Erich Maria Remarque
Published in the late 20's it was first set to be made into a silent film by Universal Studios in Hollywood. The popularity of sound films changed that strategy and it was reset for sound. Seeing the film again, one is struck by how raw it all seems--the sound is not smooth as it is in today;s films, and the scenes of battle are not computer-generated but look more real for being depicted by real men in conditions that, while staged, look as one could only imagine they MUST have felt at times to those on the actual front.
Many people who saw this film when it first was released must have wondered how, in less than ten years, Europe would be drawn into another disaster involving even worse death tolls.
The film centers on a young German named Paul who goes to the front in 1916 after getting a patriotic pep-talk to his class by a professor. Germany needs "Iron Men", the teacher tells the class with a bravado that is all ballyhoo and no reality. Many then rush to the recruiting office even before they are to be conscripted.
Some months pass at The front. The optimism of a quick war that had been believed by many on both sides is long over. The front lines are an endless horror. Gas attacks. Futile charges against machine guns. The life among the dead and the shell-shocked and the blinded and suffering. Only with his fellow soldiers in short lulls in the war--where they talk of putting all the leaders of the nations in a ring and letting them fight the war they are stuck in--provide some brief respite for the young man.
On leave, Paul realizes he cannot talk about war to his family or friends in his home town. They have no concept. In the book by Remarque, Paul returns home to his room and the books he read and was inspired by as a young man. They have lost their significance in a world that is torn apart by the reality of war.
In one of the best scenes in the film, Paul later returns on leave to the class with the same teacher and tells the students what war is really like. The film has many great scenes like this, and, thanks to the lax censorship of the times there is a maturity to the film about matters such as sexuality in wartime which are not graphic but refreshingly without prudery.
In a world where leaders on all sides talk rather easily of preparing for conflicts, this material (as a book or a film) is both a relevant and poignant testimony of a human folly that cannot seem to stop.