All Quiet On The Western Front All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Delbert Mann, is based on the novel written by Erich Maria Remarque. It tells the story of a German schoolboy, Paul Baumer, and a group of his classmates, who journey from fantasies of heroic glory to the real horror of actual soldiering. Their journey is a coming of age tale that centers on the consternation of war and emphasizes the moral, spiritual, emotional, and physical deterioration suffered by the young soldiers. Paul Baumer is a 19-year-old volunteer to the German army during World War I. He and his classmates charge fresh out of high school into military service, hounded by the nationalist ranting of a feverish schoolmaster, Kantorek. Though not all of them want to enlist, they do so in order to save face.
Their first stop is boot camp, where life is still laughter and games. “Where are all the medals?” asks one. “Just wait a month and I’ll have them,” comes the boisterous response. This is their last vestige of boyhood. War slowly begins to strip away the ideals these boy-men once cherished. Their respect for authority is torn away by their disillusionment with their schoolteacher, Kantorek who pushed them to join. This is followed by their brief encounter with Corporal Himmelstoss at boot camp.
The contemptible tactics that their superior officer Himmelstoss perpetrates in the name of discipline finally shatters their respect for authority. As the boys, fresh from boot camp, march toward the front for the first time, each one looks over his shoulder at the departing transport truck. They realize that they have now cast aside their lives as schoolboys and they feel the numbing reality of their uncertain futures. After their first two days of fighting, they return to their bunker, where they find neither safety nor comfort. A grizzled veteran, Kat, suggests these ‘fresh-faced boys’ should return to the classroom.
The war steals their spiritual belief in the sanctity of human life with every man that they kill. This is best illustrated by Paul’s journey from anguish to rationalization of the killing of Gerard Duval; the printer turned enemy who leaps into the shell-hole already occupied by Paul. Paul struggles with the concept of killing a “brother”, not the enemy. He weeps despondently as war destroys his emotional being. War destroys Paul and his friends.
Those who physically survive the bombing, the bullets and bayonets are annihilated by physical attacks on their sanity. Their minds are exploded by the weight of one too many atrocities they have witnessed and yet their hope in a seemingly hopeless situation attests to the endurance of the human spirit. The slight chance that they would return home someday inspires them to think and fight like murderous animals and endure the barbarity of the face of war. But as the war wears on and the battlefield soaks up the blood of Kemmerich, then Westhus, then Muller, Paul’s hope ebbs. After recovering from his wound, he entertains his thoughts of returning home on leave.
He wants to return to his boyhood days of civilian clothes, family, and childhood memories. Arriving home, Paul realizes that he neither “fits” in his old life nor can he fit into his old dress suit. Returning to his “home” on the front, he learns of the death of another friend. After the deaths or dismemberment of his classmates, other comrades, and finally his most cherished friend Katczinsky, Paul speaks of being “broken, burnt out, and rootless.” Ironically, on the eve of the resolution of World War I, Paul is killed. Although his life was brief, he handled more experiences than most men have in long life span.