This film shows WWI to be a horrible event in human history. (Because, you know, it was.)
But our focus on mortality here isn't simply to say people died in the war. That's a given. We instead want to focus on how the film portrays the pervading atmosphere of death that the soldiers lived with on a constant basis.
On the Western Front, death is always on a soldier's mind. He has to work hard to kill his enemy, worry about the deaths of his comrades, and understand that he could be killed at any minute by a random shell or bullet fire in his general direction. WWI saw nine million people killed. Paul's story serves as a reminder of what this huge number meant to an individual who lived among the nine million.
Questions About Mortality
- How do you see Paul change as a result of "sleeping and eating with death," and how do you see Paul's struggles fitting into this theme?
- The only member of 2nd Company whom we know doesn't die is Tjaden. While spared, how do the deaths of those around him affect the character?
- Whose death did you find to be the most troublesome? Why? How does it help you develop your personal understanding of this theme?
- Has the movie's age diminished its ability to effectively convey the horrors of death? Why or why not?
Chew on This
The same spades used to kill the rats are later used to kill enemy soldiers in the trenches, representing the relationship between man, death, and the brutality of the natural world.
The film's setting shows that war brings death to more than just soldiers. It brings death to the natural world, as evidenced by the splintered trees; to civilization, as evidenced by the bombed-out buildings and towns; and to our beliefs in a higher power, as shown in the destruction of the church.