The soldier is shot. One bullet to the head just as he was going over the top. We learn his name, Gerber, but little else. The year is 1917, three years into the War to End All Wars.
But Gerber is neither person nor individual. He is a soldier for the German army. He served his country, and now his time is up. So his tag is retrieved, his body stripped, his uniform washed, patched, folded, and presented to another German excited to serve his country. He is Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), and he’s even younger than Gerber. By the movie’s end, Bäumer, too, will be replaced. This time by a soldier who doesn’t even look like he’s finished puberty.
Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front is the first time a German production has tackled the material. It’s fascinating, haunting, and queasy, a powerful work that’ll turn off even the most ardent warmongers.
Director Edward Berger spares the soldiers no humiliation, no level of hunger or pain, and Volker Bertelmann’s score stings, turning even moments with a glimmer of life into a melancholy dirge. There is no light here, only death and misery. And when the horn blows on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a little text and a simple shot prove it was all for naught. Now streaming on Netflix.