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This is a review of both the book, and the original 1930 film.
The book is a standout; along with it's forerunner The Red Badge Of Courage, they are the first two real serious looks at what warfare IS, not what society would LIKE it to be. I've read the original work in German, and the "standard" English translation is, in fact, one of the best when it comes to capturing the intent, feel, and emotion of the original work.
And what a feel that is. While there is now a thriving subgenre of "War is Terrible" movies and TV series, AQOTWF is the Trope Maker. It avoids the larger picture and scope that we see in many, if not most, war films. Instead, it shows that the Larger Picture is, in fact, an illusion, and does this masterfully by examining the minutiae of the soldiers' life. Most specifically, how the Larger Picture informs and mythicizes people's beliefs about warfare, in order to cover for the god-awful reality that industrialized war is.
It rubs our noses in reality, and is a spectacular boon for it. For the continued illusion that modern society has is that war is clean, heroic, and a necessary part of the political process. The book is very gut-wrenching in its thorough disabusement of the fakery we worship. And it does it with intense yet sparse prose, without preaching, without bombastic scenes or overly-wrought characters. That is why it succeeds. For it is the tale of everyone, told as it is experienced, in a way that feels like nothing more than simple dictation one would find in a diary.
That is its power; to avoid all the cliches and speeches and wishes and desires aside, and present reality as it was, simply, truthfully, and, ultimate, brutally.
The 1930s film is a masterpiece, especially given the time it was made. It hews extremely close to the text of the book, yet making a very convincing translation to another medium. The primary thing that the film succeeds at is conveying the viceralness of everything; not just war, but the very existence of the soldier. Even today, 90 years later, extraordinarily few films manage to reach that level of Truth. Moreover, the techniques of the film have held up to the passage of time - it doesn't "feel" old or antiquated or obsolete. I would put that down to excellent direction and superb acting, at a time when being a "professional actor" was hardly the most serious of careers.
Watch the film, read the book. NOW. Particularly if you have any inkling of wanting to join the military, or have any desire to be in a position where you are empowered to send soldiers to war. War is sometimes a necessity, when all other options are exhausted, rather than merely another tool to be used at one's discretion. Maybe seeing this film will help people understand why we so badly misuse militaries.
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