La Grande Illusion and All Quiet on the Western Front Fail to Represent War Adequately

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La Grande Illusion (1937) and All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque, 1996) were both famous pieces of fictional art with very different perspectives of the first World War. During this war, there were over 40 million civilian and military deaths and 21 million wounded, being the bloodiest war to date at its time. Regardless of this number of deaths and injuries, both the book and the film struggle to put this in to perspective and change the view of war completely. As these pieces of work were made over 10 years after the end of the war, they may have had an impact on how people viewed the war, as many had their set ideas and feelings about the war. Both of these pieces have a somewhat ignorant view of war and fail to represent all aspects of it. This can be explored through the themes of culture, the representation of the enemy and fighting and gender politics.

Firstly, the theme of culture is present throughout both of these pieces of post war art. In La Grande Illusion there is an overwhelming sense of culture within all of the prisoners. This is represented through the culture of international fraternity, where all soldiers of different national backgrounds are able to come together in a prison of war camp regardless of which nation they belong to. This comradeship is created through a common interest of escapism and the common humanity of men. The following exchange between two main characters shows this international fraternity.

'Capt. de Boeldieu: Why did you make an exception of me by inviting me here? Capt. von Rauffenstein: Because your name is Boeldieu, career officer in the French Army. And I am Rauffenstein, career officer in the Imperial German Army.'

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Through this exchange we can see that the divide in their nationality does not stop them from being able to maintain a friendly relationship. This fraternity is present amongst most characters and their common appreciation for good food. This fails to represent war adequately as many people believe that there should be a natural divide between opposing forces during war and this specific relationship goes against that. It also represents war in a very poor war as the conditions in prisoner of war camps were commonly known to be poor and the aspect of having luxurious foods available is unrealistic. In comparison to this high-spirited culture in La Grande Illusion, the culture is represented in a much different way in All Quiet on the Western Front as the feeling of comradeship is not present and is seen as not real. In fact, the culture is much more sombre and there is no sense of community and national spirit as perceived in wartime. In this book a contrast of culture is represented and highlighted through the divide between soldiers and civilians. When Paul returns home he is greeted by many people who do not understand what war is like and therefore give an ignorant opinion on war conditions. 'Well, you're just back from the front? How's the morale out there? Pretty good, pretty good, eh?' (pg119) This friendly and naïve encounter shows that the understanding of war of poor from those not on the front and that there are many conflicting cultures within wartime. The way that culture is portrayed in this book fails to represent war adequately because the naïve nature of the civilians are over-exaggerated as there was much more respect and consideration for those coming out of a real war situation. To sum up the theme of culture, both pieces of art have represented culture in very different ways; one shows an overwhelming sense of comradeship, whereas the other shows a conflict between different wartime cultures. Regardless of this aspect, both presentations of culture fail to represent war adequately as the culture would be seen as more gritty and gruesome in comparison to the somewhat ignorant views that are highlighted in both of these pieces.

The representation of the enemy and fighting in both the film and the book are important when assessing whether these pieces of fictional art represent war adequately. In All Quiet on the Western Front it is clear to see that the enemy is not the obvious opposing side of the war, but truly, death; this is represented through the passing on of Kemmerich's boots. The presence of an opposing side is one of the main aspects that is missing from the book. As the book is a historical novel about the war in which two sides fought against one another, there is surprisingly no real enemy involved. This can be highlighted in the scene where Paul is faced against a French soldier, accidentally killing him, being his first time that he has killed. (153-160) He explains much anger and mistake for this accident but feels no sense of national duty, thus removing the national identity of war and also the main element of the need to fight. In contrast, the enemy in this book is portrayed more as the main characters' commanding officer, 'Himmelstoss'. They have no respect for his authority, which is seen throughout the book. One example of this is when Paul sees Himmelstoss in combat: 'His eyes glaze over, and I bang his head against the wall - 'You Sod'- I hit him in the ribs...' In the eyes of the main characters, he is the enemy. The lack of respect for his authority completely undermines the model of war and is a contributing factor to why this book does not represent war adequately. The theme of the enemy and fighting in La Grande Illusion are almost completely absent. With the film including no actual war scene, this removes the warlike feeling of the film immediately weakening the representation of war. In a sense, La Grande Illusion sanitises war as there is no mention of the brutality of war in the entire film. At the start of the film, the dog fight is not shown, which is an example of this sanitisation of war. The true enemy of this film is represented as the prison in which they are trying to escape from as they all have the common interest of escaping. This also inadequately represents war as the enemy is the opposing side traditionally and the military objectives, which, again, is not involved or talked about in the entire film. As a clear enemy is absent from both the book and the film, a poor representation of war is given as war is traditionally fought by two opposing sides and both pieces of fictional art do not provide this. This theme is very important in analysing whether war is represented adequately in the film and the book as the main element of war is fighting and that there is a clear enemy and objectives in a war situation.

Finally, the theme of gender politics is present throughout both the film and the book. During the first World War, men were enrolled in the army, leaving the women who had been left behind to fill the jobs of these men and also aid the soldiers in fields such as medical. This was the gender politics of the time and is represented much differently in these two pieces of art, thus weakening the representation of war. Firstly, the main inclusion of women in All Quiet on the Western Front is in the form of three French prostitutes who interact with the main characters. (103-8) As the soldiers had not seen women since they were enlisted, they become very excited. Although the women are prostitutes, their significance in the book is high. They represent the desire for normality and for the end of war for the soldiers to go back to their families.

Although they symbolise this, their characters and role in the book does not represent war adequately in the broader view where the women were seen as the backbone to the war, in means of work and support for the soldiers; the female characters in the book poorly represent this as they are seen to be very poor and hungry, highlighted as they seem more interested in the food that the men bring rather than their company. In contrast to the book, La Grande Illusion represents women and gender politics in a different way. In the scene in which one of the prisoners cross-dresses and walks in to a room filled with other soldiers, the room goes completely silent. This could be due to the fact that these men had not received female interaction for months, possibly years, therefore are in ore when this male soldier is dressed as a female. As there is silence when he enters, this shows the soldiers admiration of women and creates a contrast in the film between masculinity and gender equality. Due to most of the characters in this film being male, there is a high sense of masculinity throughout the film. As there is minimal female interaction in the film, this contrast is very important as it makes the viewer think about how the soldiers were in war time. Although this scene is very impactful in the film, the role of gender politics and how the feminine figure is seen provides a poor representation on war as it focuses too much on the men's desire for women over the desire for escaping and the end of the war. To compare the two pieces of art in the view of gender politics within them, they both have a very fundamental and traditional view on women; highlighted through the male characters desire for women and even in the way that the male soldier is dressed as a woman. This poorly represents war as it focuses too much on the desire for women rather than basic needs and requirements for survival in wartime and the main objectives of war.

To summarise, the novel All Quiet on the Western Front and the film La Grande Illusion fail to represent war adequately to a large extent, which has been highlighted through the themes of the culture that is presented throughout both of these pieces of work. Also, the representation of the enemy and fighting in both the book and the film are almost not present at all, which subtracts from the realism of war time. Finally, the theme of gender politics which is highlighted in both pieces poorly represents how women and the gender structure was seen in war time. Therefore, in conclusion, both of these pieces based on the war were very important at the time of their release as they gave a very different view on war, although they do not represent war in a realistic way and give somewhat of an ignorant view, mainly achieved due to the audience at the time having sensitive feeling about the war.

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