‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ Ending, Explained: Did Paul Survive The War? What Does The Title Signify?


“All Quiet on the Western Front,” directed by Edward Berger, tells the story of a time period when mankind was getting to know the kind of destruction it was capable of doing. It tells the story of the infamous Armistice of Compiegne, where the Germans surrendered (unofficially) to the French in the year 1918. But “All Quiet on the Western Front” is not about war. It is not about patriotism. It is about the realization that a soldier goes through while he stands on the frontline and faces the bullets of the enemy forces. The screenplay has been adapted from a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque. So, let’s see World War I through the eyes of a young soldier who joined the forces and came to fight for his country. A soldier who wanted to be brave and noble. A soldier who fought to the point where anything and everything stopped making sense. But by the time he saw through the intentions and motives of those who had deceived him, it was a bit too late.

Spoilers Ahead

‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

It was the third year of World War 1. For the first time in the history of warfare, tanks, chemical weapons, gas bombs, fire blazers, and trench warfare tactics were being used. Mankind had never seen anything so devastating before. At the time, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empire (which was later broken, and its territories were divided between Britain, France, Greece and Russia), formed an alliance called the Central Powers. They were fighting against the Allied Powers, which included Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Canada, Japan and the United States of America.

On the western front of the German-French border, as soon as one batch of soldiers died, the uniforms and other utilities were taken from their corpses and sent back, where they were washed, stitched, and made ready to be worn again. Such was the value of life. If only Paul Baumer and others had known about this adversity before joining the forces, things would have been different for them. Paul had forged the signature of his mother to be a part of the army and fight the war for his fatherland. But little did he know that he had signed his own doom, and there was no going back. It was the spring of 1917 when four young lads, Paul Baumer, Albert Kropp, Fraz Behm Muller, and Ludwig Behm, decided to join the army. The leaders came and gave an inspirational speech. They told the young cadets how the war would instill fear and doubt in their minds. They say that on the battlefield, one cannot afford to be mentally weak. They spoke about patriotism, and they spoke about a glorious future. They spoke about righteousness when all they were doing was deceiving young minds. The motivational words spoken by the leaders were nothing but an act of treachery. They had been successful in brainwashing an entire generation.  They made them believe that it was in their best interests that the war was being fought. The happiness that Paul had while collecting his uniform didn’t last long. He was made privy to the ground realities as soon as he reached the western front. 

Paul met Stanislaus Katczinsky in the trenches. Paul was horrified to see the state of the soldiers in the trenches. We came to know that the young boys didn’t have any combat skills. They were not given any sort of training due to a lack of time. They were sent directly to the battlefield to fight the French. For the first time, Paul realized the meaning of the command, “Start Collecting,” which they heard quite often in the trenches. It meant that the badges of all those who had died had to be collected from their corpses to maybe keep a count and maintain a record of the dead. Paul found the spectacles of his friend Ludwig lying in the trenches, and then next to that, he found his dead body. That was Paul’s first encounter with death. “Death” was a frequent visitor in those trenches. Paul was posted in Champagne, a French-occupied territory after that. There was always a scarcity of food in the trenches. Once, Paul and Katczinsky stole a goose from a French farmer’s house. 

That day, when they were devouring their piece of meat together with Tjaden, Kropps, and others, it felt like their problems no longer existed. They probably ate properly after ages. Apart from food, even females and fresh bed sheets and clothes were a sight for sore eyes. Katczinsky didn’t know how to read. Paul read his letters. While the soldiers were fighting the war, their families were struggling to earn their livelihoods. Life had taken a setback in Germany, yet the proud and arrogant leaders were not ready to give in. They thought it was an act of courage to keep fighting and putting the lives of the soldiers at stake. Katczinsky’s son had died, and he had moved away from his family. Often, he had a feeling that maybe he would never be able to go back, even once the war was over. He knew that after seeing so much bloodshed and so much ruthlessness, he would never be able to live a normal life.

‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ Ending Explained: Did Paul Baumer Survive The War?

Paul, Katczinsky, Kropps, Tjaden, and others were sent to look for 60 young recruits who had been missing since the day before. Every man and every soldier was valuable to the German government, not because they valued their lives, but because they were already running short on manpower and resources.

The General was given the daily report by Major Von Brixdorf, one of his most trusted men. The General was of the opinion that the social democrats would bring the doom of mankind. Though he had ordered the German delegation, under Matthias Erzberger, to go to Compiegne to enter into an armistice with the French, he had no intention of signing a peace treaty. He wanted to keep on fighting, as his false pride was too great to surrender. He was ready to sacrifice each and every soldier to fend for his own interests. The General said that the life of a soldier has no meaning without war. But neither was he a true soldier, nor was he fighting the war himself. Matthias Erzberger, though, was not like that. He had lost a son, and he knew the absurdity of what the Germans were ordering their soldiers to do. He was trying to convince the French and the Germans to come to an agreement. He knew that the terms and conditions that the French had proposed were not feasible, but he was still willing to put an end to all the hostilities. He didn’t want more soldiers to lose their lives.

The starving German soldiers fought their way through. They didn’t have much of a choice. The dynamics were very simple: kill or get killed. Paul got stuck in one of the craters with another French soldier. He stabbed the French soldier mercilessly as if he was possessed and incapable of understanding what he was doing. But when some thought prevailed, he realized that he had almost killed a man. He started to heal his wounds, but it was too late. Paul realized that it was not his war. He didn’t have any reason to kill an innocent man whom he was meeting for the first time in his lifetime. He knew that he was nothing but a glorified mercenary who had been given a false sense of purpose.

The Armistice of Compiegne was signed on November 11th, 1918, and it was decided that there would be a ceasefire at exactly 11 a.m. Kropps didn’t survive the war, and Tjaden committed suicide because he didn’t want to live his life as a disabled person. Paul and Katczinsky were still there. They were the lucky ones, as Katczinsky told Paul. They were not able to find any meaning in the war they had fought. They grieved the loss of those with whom they once laughed and shared bread. But now it felt like the nightmares would finally vanish.

They decided to once again steal a goose from that same French farmer. Paul went inside, but the farmer’s little son locked him inside the barn. Paul managed to come out and he told Katczinsky to make a run for his life. The farmer’s son caught up and shot Katczinsky. It felt absurd. A man who had survived the fiercest battle of all times couldn’t withstand the hate that a little boy was carrying within himself. The leaders were able to plant the seeds of vengeance successfully (the effects of which were seen in 1939, when a guy sporting a toothbrush mustache and harboring that same hate inside him decided to burn the world). But the General was still not done. He ordered the soldiers to go against the armistice and attack Latierre, as there was technically still some time left for the peace treaty to take effect. Paul wasn’t as lucky this time. He couldn’t survive the wrath of war. Another young recruit, just like him, collected all the badges. Paul had died saving the life of that young boy, hoping that one day he would understand that there was nothing more futile than going to war. Paul was a realist. He never hoped that he would one day attain glory for dying for his fatherland. He just hoped for a better world. But sadly, till men with bloated egos and inflated self-esteem held the reins, “a just world” was going to be a mere figment of imagination.

What Does The Title Signify?

The title is symbolic of the hypocrisy of the regime and the leaders, who once led their countries into one of the most devastating wars of our times. They said that it was “All Quiet on the Western Front.” As per the records, no one moved. As per the statistics, both sides didn’t lose out on much. As per the power wielders, everything was under control. But when everything was quiet on the western front, millions of soldiers fell prey to that silence. Millions of soldiers died while trying to feed the egos of men who were too self-absorbed to look beyond themselves. Throughout our cinematic history, we have glorified war. But if you ask a soldier what was going inside his mind when he was on the frontline, he would create a kind of picture that would ruin your expectation and definitely the patriotism-soaked narrative that we see in most of our films. A soldier will tell you that there is no nobility in losing one’s life. There is no nobility in killing another man. Maybe a soldier, after a point of time, doesn’t even realize why he came there in the first place. The whole facade becomes a struggle to save one’s life and come out of it alive. Ask a soldier if he feels that he is victorious after his country has won a war, and you will get your answer. There might be a winner for those who sit comfortably on the sidelines and are fortunate enough to not have lost anyone in the war. The ones who are on the frontlines are made privy to that one eternal truth: there is no winner in a war.

When an individual witnesses a calamity such as World War 1, something very intrinsic inside him changes its shape and form. He is never the same person who once entered the battlefield feeling patriotic about his country and eagerly wanting to do anything and everything that his superiors commanded. He realizes that maybe he doesn’t want to be a part of such reckless hate. He realizes that maybe there was no such great cause that drove the leaders other than their own personal greed and agendas. He realizes that he has been fooled. Patriotism was but a ploy to deceive the people into believing that they needed to sacrifice their lives for the welfare of the country. But the trenches of World War I didn’t lie to them. It told them that there was no such thing as the welfare of the country. Nobody cared about that, especially not the leaders. The General told his soldiers to make the last hours of war count and avenge the deaths of their brothers. It was an example of how humans are capable of living a lie and making it their reality. Whatever he and the other leaders spoke was a big lie, just like the title, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Nothing was ever the same again on the western front. It was tainted with blood, cries, hopelessness, and everything else that millions of soldiers experienced in those last few moments of their lives. Grief changes you. Death makes you realize the true nature of life. You are made privy to your worst fears every single moment. Nothing remains the same. The world loses its luster, and you don’t know where to hide or how to lead your life after that. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a story about that deafening chaos and stands as a testimony to the fact that what happens when we are ruled by men who have a false sense of pride and personal worth. 

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a 2022 Drama War film directed by Edward Berger.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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