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All Quiet on the Western Front Is a Warning to the World

The specter of Nazism has always haunted the margins of this story

Peering through the yellow lens of his gas mask, seventeen-year-old Paul Bäumer struggles to breath. Like a creature from a distant planet, he takes in his first glimpse of the western front. Bullets ding overhead. Mortar shells explode. The trench is flooding. A sergeant, convinced Paul will be dead by dawn, pulls the mask from his face and orders him to bail the rainwater from the trench. A soldier emerges from the dugout. “Give a dog a bone and he will always snap it up,” he mutters. “Give a man power…. Man is a beast.”

Director Edward Berger’s new adaptation for Netflix of the 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front offers a grim, yet stunning portrayal of trench warfare in WWI. First adapted into an iconic film by Universal Pictures in 1930, Berger has reclaimed this story with a distinctly German understanding of war and power. There are no heroes here. No moral compass. Only a nation so deluded with its own sense of exceptionalism that it has paved the way for its own demise. This story feels more relevant than ever.

True to the book, Paul Bäumer’s descent into the heart of war begins with the lies of his teacher. Wide eyed and innocent, Paul and his classmates believe their schoolmaster when he assures them victory is imminent. They are the Iron Youth, their teacher says, fighting for “the Kaiser, God, and the Fatherland!”

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