Article by Justinian Oberon Wright
Once upon a time in my seventh grade history class we had where doing a boring unit on World War 1. As a sort of climax to this unit, we watched a 1930’s film only known as, All Quite on the Western Front. This movie is my least favorite movie of all time. Not because it’s lazy or poorly done, for it is executed exceedingly well, but because of its moral and its “plot”. For those who are wondering, plot is in quotation marks for a very simple reason. There is none. This movie has no plot.
At this point, you may be asking, “Well get on with it, what is the movie about?” or you may be ask, “How could a movie have no plot?” Fear not! For if you are thinking one of these things, your questions will be answered! (If you are asking something else, you question may be answered, but we can’t be sure.)
All Quite on the Western Front is about a German soldier who will henceforth be referred to as Ed Gruberman. The movie opens in a Classroom where our plucky Gruberman and his buddies are listening to a rousing patriotic speech given by their professor. You know, this professor guy is good, I think I am going to join the German army now too. If only I was a German citizen… Anyway, Ed’s buddies convince him to join in the army with them, and the group of the goes off to war.
There, they meet a crafty soldier who we will be calling Porky. Porky shows Ed and pals the ropes and their soldiering beings in earnest. Most of Gruberman’s buddies are killed, and Ed gets trapped in a pit with a man that he stabbed and can only watch as the man dies. It’s very sad.
Gruberman goes back home for shore leave (or whatever it’s called in the army). He returns to his old school house and sure enough, there’s the professor giving his old speeches a about patriotism. Gruberman will not let this kind of patriotic banter stand, and he tells that class that war is bad! Yeah! You tell ‘em Ed! We don’t need patriots in this country!
I mean it’s not like: because man is not perfect, civilization will always be under attack by our enemies, and, because of that, war is a necessary evil to prevent worse evil form befalling the innocent. If that were the case, then certain heroic individuals would have to make the sacrifice of toil and pain in order to allow us civilians to live peaceful lives and give us the chance to make movies about why patriotism is bad. If this really was true, then you would want everyone to by a patriot, because the more people who love their country, the more people are who willing to defend it and support those defending it. But that’s clearly not the case… Do you see why I don’t like this movie?
After explaining the war is bad and that there wouldn’t be war if their just weren’t patriots, which just makes so much sense, Ed Gruberman heads back on to the battlefield. He meets up with Porky, who then dies. Boohoo. We then see Ed in the trenches looking forlorn when a butterfly lands next to him. He reaches out for it, and then gets shot in the head and dies. Then the movie ends.
I hope I have made it abundantly clear through this article just how devoid of drama or conflict this story is. Drama is the basis for plot, and the main character’s goal is the basis for drama. Drama, at its most basic level, consist of something a man wants really badly and something preventing him from getting it. Seeing the protagonist trying to achieve his goal despite adversary is what makes a good story.
Let look at Ed’s goals throughout this movie: First Ed wants to be in the army, then Ed doesn’t want to be in the army, then he dies. Now you could say that our Mr. Gruberman wanting to leave the army but not being able to and just having to try and survive until the of the war is a conflict, and it could have been. But that’s not how it’s presented. It’s presented as Ed deciding that being a soldier sucks and then not doing anything about it. It is not a movie about one man’s struggle to survive World War 1, which could be any interesting movie. It’s a movie about a man who realizes that war is terrible and then dies, which couldn’t.
To this day I am unsure why we saw this in history class. I guess it was to prove the WWI sucked? But the fact the WWI sucked is the only thing they teach you in history class. Where are the brave heroes? The brilliant generals? The valiant last stands? The unbelievable victories? Where is all the things that makes learning about war interesting rather than a list of battles? Are you telling me that none of these things existed? Really? In four years of war, no one preformed a single heroic act? Really now?
This is why the World War I unit was so boring, they acted as if every in WWI was an Ed Gruberman. But this is not true. I am sure none of the soldier had fun on the battlefield but does that mean that they all unpatriotic and died for no reason.
To all the soldiers out there, and all the veterans who no longer serve, and to all the soldiers who are no long with us, thank you. Because despite what this movie may say, you’re sacrifice was not in vain.