November is National Veterans and Military Families Month, and Veterans Day is on November 11. Our current Veterans Day commemorations grew out of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I in 1919. I read and watch a lot of Great War-related items, so I made a point to watch the new version of All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) on Netflix, which was superb. If you don’t have a personal Netflix account, you can place a hold and check out one of our library’s Rokus, packed with movies and other subscription services.
Published less than a decade after the end of the Great War, All Quiet on the Western Front centers on Paul Bäumer, a German soldier on the Western Front during World War I. The protagonist and his close-knit group of friends answer the call to enlist in the army together. As the war progresses, Paul and his friends undergo the hardships of military trench warfare, which drags on to the final haunting minutes before the Armistice cease-fire.
Critics and readers have long hailed the original book for its anti-war theme. If you’ve read the book or one of the many previous film and television adaptations, it’s not a stretch to see how the lives of so many young men were wasted. The lost voices of this generation who lived and died in the shadow of war are skimmed over in our modern American films and history books. While this is a fictional tale, Paul and his friend’s journey from civilian life to the trenches of the Great War mirrors that of the men depicted in Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, taken in Germany in 1914 by August Sander. A book based on this photograph is a great read.
This new incarnation of All Quiet on the Western Front accurately portrays battlefield debris, hand-to-hand combat, flame throwers, identifying the dead and dugout artillery through an unflinching lens. There is some deviation from the book. For example, this film drops you directly into a conflict where common sights include gas masks, flame throwers, tanks, night flares, near starvation and scattered remains lodged in trees. What sets this film apart from others in this genre is the seamless integration of historical accuracy with a gripping narrative. I’ve never before seen soldiers bailing water out of the trenches or breaking German dog tags in half and leaving the other piece to help identify the deceased for burial. Another change between the book and the film includes the addition of French tanks raiding the trenches. For all their mechanical issues, tanks were giant crawling insects of death, crushing men to bits if they fell in its wake. This film provides a brutal and unflinching look at a war that most people don’t know much about—brought to the screen with the advantages of modern cinematic techniques.
Intermingled in the experiences of Paul and his fellow soldiers are the diplomatic and political negotiations between Germany and France. You can see the bitterness and humiliations which planted the seeds for the rise of European fascism.
I highly recommend watching the film in its original German with subtitles instead of the dubbed English version. You’ll also want to pair this film with a visit to Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois. You can visit Cantigny Park for free by stopping by the Fountaindale Public Library Information Desk (or your own local library) and picking up a free pass through our Museum Adventure Pass program. With this pass, you will get entry into the grounds, museum, tank park and other attractions. Make a point to see the World War I trench recreation in the First Division Museum, complete with a tank! Please note the museum is closed on Mondays and some holidays. Visit the Cantigny Park website for more details.
Here are some additional Great War films you can check out from our library and watch right now!
As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, you will want to watch Choctaw Code Talkers: Heroic Native American World War One Soldiers on Kanopy. These brave men served in a similar capacity to the celebrated Navajo Code Talkers who would follow them in World War II. You can stream a great selection of streaming documentaries and films for free with your library card by downloading Kanopy and Hoopla! Check out this excellent lineup!
See You at the Library!