All Quiet on the Western Front made its way on Netflix as the third film adaption of the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name. But what sets the 2022 film apart from its two well-received predecessors is that it is the first German-language adaptation of the book.

The film also marks the debut of the Austrian actor Felix Kammerer in the leading role of Paul Bäumer, a young German soldier who finds himself on the Western Front trenches of the First World War. Despite its realism, the book is neither a memoir of a real war veteran nor a precise retelling of actual events but is instead based on the author’s experience as a German soldier during the war.

The events of the book and the film, set during the First World War, are derived from the author’s military experience as a German Soldier

At the time of its publishing, All Quiet on the Western Front received critical acclaim for its novelty voice as well as condemnation for its supposed anti-war theme. On one hand, the book’s realistic description of the harsh nature of war and its mental toll on the soldiers involved resonated with the real-life veterans of war.

But on the other hand, notably during the initial throes of the Second World War, the book was banned in Nazi Germany and other European countries, especially in the military. Soldiers were even forbidden from reading it as its themes were deemed counterproductive to the war efforts put by the government.

However, the book was one of the first written works, if not the first, that recognized the rarely addressed aftermath of war on the mental health of military veterans and the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among the coveted “war heroes” that rendered them incapable of adjusting to normal circumstances.

The protagonist of the book and the film, Paul Bäumer, is partially named after the author himself. Before Remarque changed his middle name to ‘Maria’ in honor of his mother, he was originally born Erich Paul Remarque.

Likewise, Paul’s journey from a wishful 17-year-old soldier to a hardened and aggrieved war veteran is reminiscent of Remarque’s own experience with the Imperial German Army during the First World War. The author was only 18 years old when he was drafted into the military and stationed at the Western Front. Remarque prefaced the book by writing:

“This book is neither an accusation nor a confession and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Director Edward Berger researched the war events and took history lessons to ensure the film’s historical accuracy

Although the film remains mostly faithful to the book, it took some liberties with a few characterizations and also added a new subplot of the 1918 armistice (that ended the war) happening in the background.

To accurately represent these changes from the book, Director Edward Berger not only undertook history lessons but also conducted an immense amount of research, particularly about the signing of the armistice, for the onscreen portrayals to align with the historical events.

In his description of the film-making process to Collide, Berger said:

“When you make a film like that, you do a lot of research as well and for me, in my history lessons, or it’s probably just part of our DNA. The event of the armistice signing in Compiegne, north of Paris is just something that’s very close to my mind when thinking of the end of the first World War. I researched that a lot and took – actually the stuff that was said in the film is pretty much taken from protocols – from what is known.”

Furthermore, the film adopted the protocols of war from historical references and shot the climax scene of the last battle after doing considerable research on the American and German generals that fought in the attack.

In another interview, Berger explained that movies like All Quiet on the Western Front are “always relevant” due to the universal theme of human cruelty and war. The point was driven home by the fact that the book was, by all accounts, a truthful representation of war as experienced by the author in real-time history.

“The book doesn’t have a traditional storyline. It’s really a bunch of anecdotes. The writer, Erich Maria Remarque, had been in war, but he also interviewed a lot of his friends and colleagues, and comrades he met in a field hospital. So, it’s almost like a reporting event,” he added.