‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is Absolutely Haunting

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is Absolutely Haunting

The way I know a movie is good is when it stays with me days after the end credits have rolled. So it is with Netflix’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I just can’t get Paul and his comrades out of my head, or the foreboding musical score, telegraphing to the audience that this war story does not have a happy ending.

If you consider yourself a movie buff you need to see “All Quiet.” It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including best musical score and best foreign feature. Once you see the movie you’ll know why. The filmmakers managed to innovate on a well trodden genre (the war movie), based on required reading we all had in grade school, to create something we hadn’t seen before. Or at least, something we don’t see very often: The Train-Wreck story.

Let’s talk about “Saving Private Ryan” for a moment. When you think back to that movie (I know you’ve seen it), what words come to mind? Depressing? Heroic? Sad? Harrowing?

For me, despite the tragic backdrop of WWII and the way none of the soldiers in the story survive the war except private Ryan, the words that come to mind are, maybe, harrowing, and heroic. That’s because there are key scenes where characters demonstrate acts of heroism (and its inverse, cowardice), and let’s not forget the closing image of an aged private Ryan at Arlington National Cemetery, remembering his comrades. The music, imagery, and colors all feed the tone of the narrative so that the viewer, me, is left with something positive, despite everything else.

In this way, “All Quiet” is a completely different story, teetering on the edge of horror. Blood. Bodies. Decay. Soiled uniforms. Limbs. Standing water. Death seems to loom in every scene of this movie in one form or another. And the musical score, which first plays when Paul receives his uniform issue, a recycled uniform from a dead soldier, only punctuates this sense that things are going to head south in quick order. Buckle up for the train wreck!

I made up the Train Wreck story, but it exists and ‘All Quiet’ is one of them. It’s a story in which the character does not arc, but rather, descends in position or situation, as the story progresses. No lessons are learned. No morals are had. It’s as if these stories exist to simply say to the audience, “yep, sometimes things are just shit.” ‘All Quiet,’ is a Train Wreck story. So are ‘Joker’ and ‘American Psycho.’

You might be asking, ‘well gee what’s the point? Isn’t that a depressing movie?”

While Train Wreck stories are not so great for date night, they are supremely interesting in that they seem to push the audience towards a different conclusion than the usual stories do. As an anti-war movie, ‘All Quiet’ seems to be saying, “there’s nothing good about war,’ and, ‘France really screwed the Germans.’ And I guess this is the point that Remarque’s original novel made, that there was nothing good that came out of the war, just destruction. And although books seem to have more capacity for telling a Train Wreck story that moves, not just depresses, “All Quiet” the movie seemed to transcend beyond the horror to convey one great truth the the audience.