Summary of the Movie "All Quiet on the Western Front"

by Michael Davidson

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is a classic film from 1930 based on the novel of the same name. The magazines "Time" and "Variety" consider it one of the most definitive war movies ever made. The film takes place during World War I and stars Lew Ayres as soldier Paul Bäumer. The film was directed by Lewis Milestone and won two Academy Awards.

Recruitment and Training

The film opens with a German teacher telling his high school students what an honor it is to serve in the German military. He glorifies war and the honor involved in fighting for one's country, encouraging the students to follow that path upon graduation. Almost all of them do, and they are subjected to brutal training under the harsh treatment of Officer Himmelstoss. On short notice, the barely-trained recruits are informed that they are being sent to the front lines of the war.

Fantasy Meets Reality

The new soldiers arrive to a war zone, where they see the chaos of war for the first time. Bullets are flying in all directions, shells are exploding around them and a recruit is killed almost immediately upon arrival. There is no food and a shortage of other rations. After that battle, the survivors are loaded into a truck and dropped off at another site with veteran soldier Katczinsky, who tries to show them how to react to shell attacks. They are attacked and several of them die, but most survive the night by taking cover behind trenches as they are shot at. The survivors get picked up in the morning, and any remaining glamour of being a soldier is gone.

Stress

Rats regularly eat the soldiers' food, and many soldiers start showing signs of stress. Nightmares, flashbacks and constant anxiety afflict many of them. They spend a lot of time in trenches that are being bombed, and they run out and counter-attack when ordered to do so. In one battle, the French adversaries suffer heavy losses, but they still reach the trenches where they fight the Germans using bayonets. The German forces retreat and then try to advance again, but out of 150 men in the unit, only 80 make it back to camp.

Fallen Comrades

Some of the troops go visit Kemmerich, an injured member of the unit who had his leg amputated. He is in bad shape and one of the soldiers callously asks him for his boots. Kemmerich agrees to give them to him and he dies shortly thereafter from his injuries. His boots get passed around several times in subsequent battles as the soldiers wearing them are either killed or injured. Paul Bäumer severely wounds a French soldier, but they end up trapped in a trench together. Paul tries to doctor the soldier instead of killing him, but the soldier eventually dies. Paul is devastated since this was not a faceless enemy but a man he had come to identify with.

Conclusion

Paul is wounded in another battle and is briefly hospitalized. He goes home on furlough but is struck by the ignorance of those around him about what war is really like. His former teacher is still telling the same stories about honor and glory in the military, and Paul is angered by the lies. He returns to the front lines to find only a few of his company are still alive. Several more friends are slaughtered, with one dying in Paul's arms as he tries to carry him to a hospital. Paul is the veteran soldier at this point, trying to give advice to the new recruits just arriving to the front lines. Near the end of his tour, Paul is distracted by a butterfly. Touched by its beauty, he is killed by a bullet to the head as he stares at it.