Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Director: Edward Berger, Prague 2021. Photo by Reiner Bajo, courtesy of Netflix.
A newly released photograph revealed the start of filming for Netflix’s upcoming production of All Quiet on the Western Front. This marks the first time since 1979 that the “greatest war novel of all time” will be adapted to the screen. It will also be the first time the German novel will be made into a German-language film.
The photo teases a gritty spectacle that adheres closely to the carnage of the famous anti-war book. The black-and-white image shows a German soldier saturated with mud; his silhouette is all that distinguishes him from the remnants of the trench he is standing in. Netflix doesn’t seem to be shying away from the horrors captured in the literary classic.
Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel strips away all romantic ideas about dying for one’s country. The story follows Paul Baumer and his fellow classmates as they are swept up in pro-war fervor. At the urging of their teacher, the boys enlist in the German army. Baumer and his friends are then sent to the Western Front, where they quickly learn the horrible reality of life in the trenches. The indiscriminate nature of artillery and chemical weapons peels back the thin veneer of glory that landed them in the mud, revealing nothing but a dreadful waste.
As soon as the book hit shelves, it was a commercial success, selling more than 1 million copies in Germany in just the first year. Despite succeeding as an apolitical story that captures the universally shared misery of war, All Quiet on the Western Front somehow managed to garner criticism from all directions. Efforts to make a movie began immediately following the book’s release. Although the 1930 premiere was also a major success — winning Oscars for Outstanding Production, as the Best Picture category was then known, and Best Director — it was met with equally passionate criticism.
The Nazi Party condemned the film for being anti-German, even going so far as to interrupt the premiere with stink bombs. Ironically, the book was also banned in neighboring Poland for being too pro-German. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, All Quiet on the Western Front became one of the Nazis’ banned books.
The novel is completely void of political commentary regarding World War I. The characters aren’t painted as being on the wrong or right side of the conflict but are simply victims of a global tragedy. Remarque, himself a veteran of the war, summed up his feelings:
“How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”
If the five corpses in the teaser photo are an accurate sign of what’s to come, it looks like Netflix is out to emphasize Remarque’s point.
The largely German cast includes Daniel Brühl of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though his role has not yet been released. The movie is scheduled to begin streaming sometime next year, and it will be the first time the story is told in German since the original book. Both the 1930 version and the 1979 TV version were American productions, but by sticking to the original language, Netflix will hopefully create the most authentic adaptation to date.
Ninety-two years after the book’s release, Remarque’s work is still regarded as one of the greatest war novels of all time. The “dark, heavy, and heartbreaking” story set the bar for anti-war literature; perhaps Netflix will set the same standard for film.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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