A further look at imagery used in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.
In previous posts, I have investigated the use of ‘hats’ and ‘trading places’ to get across emotions of war.
First example, occurs only on screen for a handful of seconds.
Near the start of the film, after the teacher convinces the students to enlist in the army, they all cheer and march out of the room.
The camera lingers for a brief moment.
What we have here is a very striking image. The desks where the students sat behind and stood on are now deserted and resemble coffins.
A foreboding of their deaths in the films.
The teacher himself bookends the film. His first appearance is convincing the students to enrol. When they agree to his patriotic rant they all celebrate around him. But one student crosses out the writing on the chalkboard behind the teacher.
It’s an image that can be inferred to say that the decision they are making is wrong. A cross also , can be in certain religions, denote death, in particular how ‘X’ are marked in drawings over peoples eyes.
Infact the body position of the teacher himself forms an ‘X’.
When the teacher is reintroduced to the audience at the end of the film, he is again patrioticly ranting about the soldiers. This time, our soldier has returned from the fray and watches from afar.
The teacher is framed like this.
Notice behind him the fact the cross, and words are gone. It’s symbolic that the past has been erased. For these new students in front of him, they are not being told about the truth of war. His patriotic rants only refers to the glory and guts of his soldiers, not the tragedy of war.
Another example during the film, occurs directly after the first patriotic rant by the teacher.
In this shot, the doors are opened and the camera stays out to show the action inside. The setting is the army training camp and our soldiers begin walking into frame.
Compare to a scene further on in the film. The soldiers have now experienced war.
Our hero, recuperating after a war wound, was taken out of the hospital area, because he thinks he is dying and that his bed will be used for a new soldier.
But in the next scene he triumphantly returns from surgery.
The camera is situated similar to the ‘training camp’ shot. The action appears in the frame and moves towards the camera. In a sense he is surrounded by his new soldier friends, the doctor and nurses who have helped him.
Look at this shot further on in the film.
Looking out from the barrack windows, Director Milestone frames the shots so the screen is divided into 12 sections – in a sense , one for each soldier.
Pay careful attention to the window frames themselves. They form ‘religious crosses’ that denote death, and marry themselves with the Red Cross symbol at the bottom of the frame.
If you add the number of windows in the scene up , along with the Red Cross symbol you total the unlucky number 13.
And finally, the soldier in the regiment , who is often framed with boots. It may be observed as an unnatural liking for boots, but the imagery comes back to haunts us later in the film.
Here is the soldier the first time he is framed in the army barracks. Notice the boots dangling behind him.
He then takes a liking to another soldiers new boots, seemingly drawn to their high quality.
All this leads to a heartbreaking conclusion.
Later in the film, with another soldier in the army hospital having his legs amputated, our soldiers realises he could finally wear the boots he has loved.
By now our mind is pricked with the understanding that the boots could be bad luck for this soldier. Although we don’t really understand how we know that.
But it’s because of the subtle imagery used in the earlier scene that plants a seed in our mind.
– Rhett Bartlett
twitter: @ dialmformovies