All Quiet On The Western Front Was Made Because Of A Teenager's Reaction To The Book [Exclusive]

There's nothing quite like a high school English class. You're sitting with 30 other teenagers, all of whom are struggling to get through the same 200 page novel (and checking Sparknotes for the extra-short version) — and I say this as someone who went on to major in English. But sometimes, that high school reading list contains an unexpected gem. Sometimes, it might change the way you see the world; one of the novels might even feel like a punch to the gut.

As it turns out, Netflix's recent World War I epic "All Quiet on the Western Front," which our review called "the ultimate anti-war war film," might not have been made if it weren't for the story's ability to elicit such a strong reaction from a high school student. Director Edward Berger's 17-year-old daughter was assigned to read the Erich Maria Remarque novel by the same title for class. Like its recent film adaptation, the book follows Paul Bäumer, a young German boy who signs up to fight in the Great War under the assumption that it will be a walk in the park and help him get girls; as history has taught us, the reality is far more harrowing. Things become increasingly bleak, Paul becomes increasingly isolated. It's no wonder that men of this age group were dubbed the lost generation.

Understandably, the book had a strong effect on Berger's daughter, and when the opportunity popped up, she convinced her father to turn it into a new film.

'You absolutely have to make it. It's the book that moved me most.'

Edward Berger might not have been aware of his daughter's reaction to Remarque's novel if it weren't for a simple habit: his tendency to talk about potential movie opportunities with his family. As he shared with /Film's Danielle Ryan in an exclusive interview, the conversation provided an unexpected insight into how relevant an adaptation of "All Quiet on the Western Front" would be today:

"When I do these things, I go home usually and I talk about it with the family. And I sit at the kitchen table, and my kids then get up and think, 'Another movie, how boring.' But this time, I mentioned the title, and my daughter whipped around and said, '"All Quiet on the Western Front?" I just read it in school. You absolutely have to make it. It's the book that moved me most. I cried five times and this is such an opportunity.' And I thought, 'If 90 years after the first publication of this book, a young woman, a young girl of 17, the book still has such an impact on her, I mean it still must be relevant.'"

With that in mind, Berger would sign on to work on the adaptation. And as it would turn out, his daughter wasn't alone in finding the tale deeply upsetting — regardless of decade or century, the idea of men being sent off to a senseless war is still absolutely devastating.

All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted before

As some avid movie buffs might recall, this isn't the first time that Remarque's novel has been adapted for the big screen. Most notably, Lewis Milestone's German film by the same name was released in 1930 — and the movie certainly earned an enduring reputation (we even included it on our list of the best war movies of all time). ITC Entertainment also produced an American direct-to-television adaptation in 1979, though it has faded into relative obscurity in comparison with the 1930 epic.

However, it's only natural for Berger to have a few doubts about an adaptation's potential success today. When the 1930 epic was released, the horrors of WWI would've still been relatively fresh in people's minds. Likewise, the American adaptation was released just a few years after the war in Vietnam ended. None of this is to speak on war sentiment in 2020, when the project was first announced, but it makes sense that Berger would be cautious to approach the subject matter. That being said, the novel's material is disturbing enough to resonate no matter when or how you encounter it (whether by reading or viewing). May the latest adaptation of "All Quiet on the Western Front" do well, and may it serve as a stark warning against needless horrors in the future.

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is currently playing in select theaters and will be available on Netflix on October 28. You can find the trailer here.