Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is an incredibly powerful and harrowing book about World War I and the 1930 film adaptation (which won Best Picture) nails the heart of the novel despite the inability to show the graphic violence Remarque describes. Seventy-one years later, director Mimi Leder (Pay It Forward) will helm a new adaptation from a script by Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson. “With this version, most of it takes place in the last 24 hours of the war. WWI fighting was brutal, hand-to-hand and ugly, and it practically wiped out a generation of young men,” Leder tells Deadline, adding “What is so compelling is the catastrophic levels of violence, this mind-numbing savagery, and what happens to a boy who in the journey to becoming a man has to become an animal.”
Hit the jump for Leder’s additional comments on her plans for the adaptation and my concerns with her take on the project.
“War destroys the humanity of this young man, stripping away his ability to feel, and making him act like a beast. Taken with the emotionality of how this young boy joined the war out of nationalism as many of our boys do to keep America safe, there is a message here about what happens to them and the politicians who are making war. It’s alarming how little this has changed. There is an opportunity to make a great film about war, but it is also an anti-war film, an un-romanticized version of war and its consequences.”
I understand the need for Leder to take a different approach with her adaptation, and I don’t necessarily mind that there’s a message about how war can turn good men into monsters. And I’m also glad that she’s keeping World War I as the setting and attempting to draw a parallel to our current wars rather than directly set it in the present day. However, the parallels have become tougher because war has changed so drastically since 1930.
Remember, in 1930, World War I was only eleven years in the past and those who had fought and survived could see the movie and remember the battle. Although it’s told from the perspective of a German soldier, one of the grand ironies is that soldiers on different sides can have the same experience despite being “enemies”. But our current wars are more complicated. A soldier can’t always tell the difference between a peaceful civilian and “the enemy”. Furthermore, World War I wasn’t about occupying other countries and installing systems of government.
But the remake has and edge on the original because in 1930 they didn’t know a second World War was less than a decade away and one of its causes was the massive debt forced on Germany due to their defeat in the first World War. Leder, Stokell and Paterson will have a challenge if they hope to find the common thread of history and how World War I can still be seen in the 20th and 21st century. It’s not enough to say “Look how brutal war can be and damn those heartless politicians who send men and women to die.”
We’ve seen that movie plenty of times and oddly, that’s not the most affecting moment in the original. The moment that sticks with me is when the protagonist is on leave and is brought into to speak to students at his old school. The war is kept so distant from the people that the young men in the classroom are just like him before he went to fight. They’re eager, they’re nationalistic, and they have no idea of the horrors involved. We can see that parallel today as the lack of a draft, the media focusing on other matters (most of them far less important than the war), and placing the burden on military families keeps the war out of sight and out of mind. The nation is certainly weary of fighting two wars but not enough to make the effort to stop it.
Last year we reported that Daniel Radcliffe was attached to star, but it’s unknown if he’s still on board. Filming is set for late 2012 and Leder says “We need a battlefield and an old village so we’ll go where the financing takes us,” which makes it sound as if the film is still isn’t fully funded yet.
On a non movie-related news note (but one that’s relevant to this story), please consider donating to Not Alone, an organization that helps veterans to deal with the combat stress and PTSD.