The film All Quiet on the Western Front was named after the novel it was based on…which just happens to be titled All Quiet on the Western Front. Easy, right?
Sure is. But the question we have to ask ourselves is, "Why was the novel given that title in the first place?"
Isn't It Ironic?
The phrase comes from the final passage of the book. When Paul's killed, we receive two brief paragraphs detailing his fate. They are:
He fell in October, 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: all quiet on the Western Front.
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come. (12.12-13)
A "front" is contested land between enemy forces in a war or conflict. WWI's Western Front was the area in France where German and Austrian-Hungarian forces engaged the Allied Powers, including France, the United States, and the British Empire. The war's other fronts included the Eastern Front and the Southern theaters.
As we mention in our discussion of the novel, journalists would often report—with the government's support—that "all was quiet." The phrase was a euphemism, a reassuring way of saying they had nothing to report.
The novel annexes this phrase and uses it ironically as its title. Even on days with nothing major to report, shells still fell, shots were still fired, and men still suffered and died. For the soldiers, bent and broken in the trenches, the Front was never quiet. Remarque points out this fact earlier in the novel:
[Memories] are quiet in this way, because quietness is so unattainable for us now. At the front there is no quietness and the curse of the front reaches so far that we never pass beyond it. (7.99)
Only for Paul is this euphemism true. His death has finally brought him the peace and quiet he longed for. His face, looking "as though sleeping," tells us as much. The phrase meant to assuage civilians at home has become a tragic truth for Paul…even while he becomes a quiet memory.
We should note that the novel's German title is Im Westen nichts Neues, which translates to "Nothing New in the West." Like the English phrase, the German title comes from the army's report at the novel's conclusion.
It isn't hard to see the irony behind this title either, showing us how war takes the tragedy of a young man's death and makes it commonplace.