Movie Review: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
December 6, 2022
The 2022 film All Quiet on the Western Front follows seventeen-year-old Paul Baumer as he, along with three of his friends, enlist in the Imperial German Army to fight in the first world war. The film begins in spring of 1917, three years into the war, and follows Baumer until armistice day, November 11th, 1918.
I discovered the film when I was in need of a piece of work to analyze for a college supplemental. I asked one of my Inkwell colleagues for a recommendation, and he provided. I was skeptical, as war movies don’t tend to be my cup of tea—especially not ones that are Netflix originals. Despite this though, I pressed play.
My skepticism began to dissolve as I watched the first three shots—the first of a stormy landscape at dawn, the second in the middle of a misty forest and the third of a large fox and its three cubs sleeping in their den. A few more establishing shots are shown, and eventually the camera pans over a battlefield laiden with injured soldiersand lightely dusted with snow, before sounds of gunfire are heard and trench warfare is shown.
Throuout the first longlasting scene, we follow a soldier called Heinrich as he gets sent into battle, killed and buried in a mass grave. His uniform is taken from his body, cleaned in a blood-tainted bath and repaired in a workshop. All of the shots mentioned are accompanied by a haunting melody and the uncomfortable diagetic noise of rattling sewing machines, sloshing of water, squelching and more.
Nine minutes into the film, we are introduced to our protagonist, Paul Baumer. As I mentioned previously, he and his friends are enlisting to aid in the war effort. Upon their enrollment, they are given uniforms and Baumer remarks to an officer that his uniform belongs to somebody else, as the tag has been embroidered with a name—Heinrich.
By misleading the audience to believe our main character is already a soldier within the first ten minutes, only for him to be killed soon thereafter, it establishes its style. The rest of the film continues to be characterized by un-predictability and juxtaposition—not just between beauty and pain, but between wealth and war.
While the film spans roughly eighteen months of war, its focus remains consistently narrow—friendship and death.
Baumer has a preexisting bond with the friends he enlists with, and by the end of the first day, one of them dies. He bonds with Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky, an older soldier, by helping him steal a goose from a nearby farm. The pair grow closer upon Kat’s divulgement of his illiteracy, after which Baumer becomes a dedicated letter-reader.
Aforementioned juxtaposition is performed via quick jumps between active warfare and peace negotiation by commanders over extravagant dinners in palaces. All of these scenes have an underlying tone of pain, though, and yet, are shot beautifully.
This is a war movie, though, and I did mention that friendship and death are essentially one and the same here. After Baumer and Kat learn of the ceasefire set to take place at 11:00 AM on the morning of November 11th, they decide to steal from the farm one last time. In the process, Kat is shot and killed.
Kat’s general, in the hopes of a German declaration of victory, orders an attack at 10:45 AM, which occurs in the same tranches from the beginning of the film. In said trenches, Baumer is stabbed from behind by a bayonet through the heart, just seconds before the official ceasefire takes place. In the final scene, a young soldier takes hisscarf (which was originally his friends’) and dog tag from his body.
Throughout, we are led to believe that Baumer will emerge from the Great War in a triumphant display of resilience as the only surviving member of the original enlisting group, but in the end we are struck with the reality of war—that he was doomed to repeat the fate of the soldier who had first worn his uniform.
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s Kitchen Sink Issue.