A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this anti-war epic from the 1930s digs into the physical, psychological, and emotional damage that war wreaks on soldiers in great detail. Soldiers are wounded and die, sometimes in agony, sometimes in a bloody mess, and sometimes slow and painfully. The war scenes are graphic, but don't compare in gruesomeness to more modern fare, and there's something about watching the black-and-white movie with old-fashioned characters that lessens the impact of the violence. That said, it's still intense and not for kids, though older teens can probably handle it. The soldiers occasionally talk about women and allude to sex. In one scene, several soldiers bring food to French women in exchange for (offscreen) intimacy.
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What's the story?
It's World War I in Germany, and soldiers are marching through the streets, rallying young students to join the war effort. In one classroom a patriotic professor encourages his class of young men to enlist, using every military recruitment tactic in the book. In a rush of excitement, the entire class joins up. Basic training is tough, but the young men are still enthusiastic about heading to the front. Once they hit real action, however, the reality of war sets in. The men cry, wet their pants, shriek in terror, and watch their comrades die pointless deaths. As the original group shrinks, due to death and serious injury, the morale of the group sinks to horrible lows. Poor morale combined with a lack of food, severe homesickness, and the realization that even a visit back home doesn't comfort the soul drags the main character -- Paul -- into depression. But his friendship with an older soldier who has become a mentor and father figure seems like it will save him. In the end, the darkness of war wins out.
Is it any good?
This Academy Award-winning film, based on a book by German author Erich Maria Remarque, is a classic; the story itself is powerful. It tells of the utter hopelessness and despair of young men sent to fight for something they don't believe in. And the film, while old-fashioned cinematically and culturally, makes an impact with its depiction of trench warfare, camaraderie, and the emotional journey of men as they deal with loss and fear. But the film is also heavy-handed in getting its message across, which occasionally undermines its message.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about war. What beliefs do family members hold about military service, war, and the defense of one's country? Have family members been involved in wars -- either in the military or protesting against war? What stories have you heard from family or others about war?
Talk about propaganda films, or movies that have a strong viewpoint, like this one. What cinematic elements in this movie help convince the audience of its viewpoint?
Does the lack of gory, bloody, in-your-face violence lessen the impact? Why or why not?
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