a soldier on the battlefield in the movie poster for All Quiet on the Western Front

See how All Quiet on the Western Front hits Blake Snyder’s 15 story beats!

Written by: Edward Berger & Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell
Based on the novel by: Erich Maria Remarque

Directed by: Edward Berger

Genre: Institutionalized

Opening Image: The sun rises over a serene landscape, nature at rest. Sounds rumble in the distance as we see bodies covered in mud, casualties of the war.

Set-Up: In the trenches, a young soldier named Heinrich is sitting in fear when he is forced into battle, meeting his demise. Afterwards, the dead are stripped of their clothing, which is then cleaned, repurposed, and brought back to Germany to be used by new recruits.

In the Spring of 1917, Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) rides his bike through a peaceful German village to meet up with his friends, all intent on enlisting in the army. There are many things that need fixing: the country is in a state of war, and Paul feels that for him, stasis = death. He must do something to help the fatherland. Forging his parent’s signature, he enlists, excited to serve his country. In his thesis world, honor is something he strives for.

Paul in his German army uniform shouts with glee
In his thesis world, Paul is excited to leave his life of peace to serve the fatherland with honor.

Theme Stated: Paul and his friends eagerly listen to the school principal’s speech about how great it is that they are going to war to fight for Germany. As the room swells with emotionally charged energy, the principal tells them, “Your deeds will be the water nourishing the growth of a strong and noble route.” He tells them about the honor they will embody, how doubt and hesitation are a betrayal to the fatherland. This is the thematic premise that Paul will sort through: is there honor in war? Can there be?

Set-Up (continued): As Paul and his friends get their uniforms, he discovers a nametag on his. Believing it to belong to someone else already, he attempts to return it, only to be told that it must not have fit the previous owner. As the official takes the tag off and tosses it to the floor, we recognize it as the name of the soldier Heinrich from the beginning.

Paul and his friends believe they are unique and called to serve, but are they just more lambs sent to the slaughter? They board a vehicle and drive to the Western Front as they are given instructions.

Catalyst: They arrive at the Western Front. Paul is now a part of the group, and his life will be changed from this moment, defined by the choice he makes.

A German soldier wearing a large gas mask
Arriving at the Front during the Debate, Paul is given his first taste of the reality of war.

Debate: As the soldiers walk to their position, a bomb is dropped near them, forcing them to scramble as they put on their gas masks. Arriving at the trench, Paul and his friends face the grim reality of war, being forced to bail water out during a rainstorm. There, Paul meets Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch), a Brando who states what seems to be an anti-theme: “Throw a dog a piece of meat, it will always snap it up. Give a man power… man is a beast.” This is the opposite of what Paul was told about serving being an act of honor. As he and his friends bail water out of trenches, they admit that it is not how they imagined it.

Kat and Paul in a foxhole
After facing his first day in the trenches, Paul shares a moment with Kat, a friendship that will shape his destiny.

Later, a battle breaks out; Paul and his friends face the terror in the trenches, taking shelter in a bunker while listening to the sounds outside. A blast collapses the bunker, and Paul is knocked unconscious. After waking up and in shock, he goes to Kat and silently shares a moment and a bit of rations before being told to collect dog tags from the dead. Kat reinforces what he said earlier: “No rest for the wicked. It’s the same every day.” Will Paul survive with the honor he hoped to earn?

Break into Two: 18 months later, Paul is now fully vested in his role as a soldier. It’s an upside-down antithesis world from the peaceful village he came from.

Erzberger, wearing glasses, in All Quiet on the Western Front
Erzberger serves as the B Story; his actions will impact the lives of thousands of soldiers.

B Story: The B Story is best shown through the actions of the institution itself, those in power who hold the lives of the men in their hands through their decisions. The results of their choices will determine if Paul sees his service as an act of honor or one of mankind as a beast. On November 7, 1918, German official Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) meets with the Supreme Army Command to discuss an armistice.

Paul advances holding a gun
The promise of the premise unfolds as Paul experiences war in his antithesis world.

Fun and Games: The promise of the premise centers on how war affects Paul, who enlisted with an idealistic vision. As he witnesses the atrocities around him, how will it change him? He becomes closer to Kat, and because Kat is illiterate, Paul reads a letter from Kat’s wife to him. While reading the letter, Paul discovers that Kat once had a son who had died. Later, Paul and the others go on a mission to search for a group of young soldiers who went missing. Paul finds them, but quickly discovers that the men died from a gas attack.

Friedrichs in uniform in All Quiet on the Western Front
Company Man Friedrichs will do whatever he must to protect the institution until the final moments.

Meanwhile, Company Man General Friedrichs (Devid Striesow) takes the German delegation to the train for armistice negotiations. He believes that they are selling out the fatherland and vows to continue fighting for Germany’s honor until the end.

As Paul and his friends are taken back to the Front to fight, Erzberger and the delegation meet with the French to broker a cease-fire, but learn that the French will only do so if Germany accepts their terms. The German officials are given 72 hours to sign the treaty as a battle begins at the Front. As Paul and the German soldiers gain ground at the French’s front line, they are counterattacked by tanks, planes, and soldiers with flamethrowers.

Midpoint: During the battle, Paul is thrown into the air by a blast as he is retreating. Being alive is a false victory as things come back into focus for him, and the “victory” is short-lived. He watches as another soldier is engulfed in the fires of a flamethrower, crawling toward water before succumbing to the pain.

Meanwhile, the delegation on the train discusses what to do about the treaty. While one official suggests that it is best for the soldiers to die with honor, Erzberger says that his son died in the war, and there is no honor for him. The stakes are raised and time clocks tick as Erzberger notes that they only have 72 hours to accept the terms, with more men dying every hour they delay.

Two soldiers exultant on the front lines in All Quiet on the Western Front
Even though the bad guys have closed in, there is word of hope that the war might soon end.

Bad Guys Close In: As Paul is trapped in no-man’s land in a crater, he confronts and fights an enemy soldier, stabbing him repeatedly. Not only do the external bad guys close in on him, but as Paul watches the man choke on his own blood, his internal bad guys of doubt and anger rise. Attempting to silence the man, Paul shoves mud in his mouth, but the soldier continues gasping for life. Struck by the man’s humanity, Paul relents and tries to help him, discovering a picture the man is carrying. Now, seeing him as an individual and not as an enemy, Paul is torn emotionally, wracked by the guilt of what he has done.

Later, Paul finds his injured friend Tjaden (Edin Hasanovic) and brings him soup, but Tjaden uses the utensils to kill himself in front of the other soldiers, believing there is nothing left for him. The war has taken so much from so many, and Paul begins to face despair; he’s seen so much since the day he enlisted.

Meanwhile, the delegation signs the treaty; the hostilities will cease at 11:00 on that day, November 11. At that point, the front line will remain unchanged. Sitting with Paul, Kat notices the stillness, realizing that the officials have signed the cease-fire; the war is over.

In excitement, Paul and Kat go to a farmer’s home to steal eggs to eat. They’re spotted but run away. When the farmer’s young son catches up to Kat in the woods, he shoots Kat. Paul discovers his injured friend, who laments that his injury had to happen then, right before the war ends.

All Is Lost: Paul carries Kat back to the camp and tries to get help from the medic, only to learn that Kat has died already.

Dark Night of the Soul: Now, though Paul is surrounded by other soldiers, he is alone. His friends have all died, and he sits in stunned silence. Gripping Kat’s dog tag, he ponders what to do next. The other troops are excited to go home, but General Friedrichs gives a speech, asking the men if they want to go home at the end welcomed as heroes with honor or as weaklings who retreated when it mattered.

Friedrichs plans to attack the frontline just before the armistice takes place, giving Germany a final victory. Paul must now make a choice. Does he try to leave like other soldiers, who are shot as traitors, or does he stay and fight? In a sacrifice, Paul joins the group, battle-hardened and weary.

Break Into Three: With a look of despondence on his face, Paul marches toward the trenches again. In his synthesis world, he has seemingly lost his humanity, a far cry from the innocent young man at the start.

a sad and serious Paul in a helmet in front of other soldiers
Paul sacrifices his humanity in the Finale.

Finale: Minutes before the cease-fire, the soldiers rush into battle, surprising the enemy. A viciousness overtakes Paul, who fights violently in hand-to-hand combat. As an enemy soldier holds his face down in the mud, attempting to suffocate Paul, he reaches out and grasps a rock, smashing it across the soldier’s head. The two scramble toward a gun in a last-ditch effort to kill the other, falling into a bunker.

There, for a moment, Paul and the other soldier stand in silence, looking at each other, seeing the other as a human being. Neither takes action against the other, but the peace is soon interrupted as Paul is stabbed from behind with a bayonet from another soldier. As he crumples to the ground, he hears the orders that the cease-fire has taken effect; the fighting is over. In his final moments, Paul stumbles out of the bunker to witness the stillness at the Front before falling against the wall, still and at rest.

Final Image: Just as with the Opening Image, we see the serene natural landscape of the Western Front. This time, it truly is silent, without the sounds of war.

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