Does Paul Die at the End of All Quiet on the Western Front? [Spoiler]

Image Credit: Reiner Bajo/Netflix

Netflix’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is set during the final years of the First World War. Following the story of a teenage German soldier, the film shows us how the horrors of war wear down a hopeful youth. Parallel to this, we also follow the story of a German diplomat who tries to bring an end to the bloodshed and save some lives in the process. However, even as the prospects of peace loom on the horizon, the situation for the soldiers on the front remains just as dire as it had been on their first day. If you are wondering whether or not Paul survives all of it, then here’s what you should know about his fate. SPOILERS AHEAD

What Happens to Paul?

The first time a battlefield is presented to us in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, we only see dead bodies and blood. Then comes the barrage of bullets and more soldiers die in the service of their country. The most striking thing that this scene focuses on is how most of the soldiers die without even getting to fire a bullet. This theme carries on in the film, as we find characters getting shot while hiding in the trenches and surviving the worst parts of the battle only to die of something completely unexpected and unrelated to the battlefield.

Image Credit: Reiner Bajo/Netflix

The manner of these deaths shows the audience the banality of death in wars. Unlike in Hollywood movies, rarely does anyone get the glorious death of facing the enemy single-handedly or undertaking a risky mission that gives the audience a sense of adventure. This quest to show the most unremarkable and everyday moments of a soldier’s life in the midst of a raging war sets ‘All Quiet in the Western Front’ apart from other firms in the genre. And it is through this approach from the very first shot of the war that it prepares us for Paul’s fate.

With all of his friends dead and the deadline for the armistice just around the corner, Paul finds himself marching back to the frontlines when General Friedrichs declares that they will fight till the last moment. While some soldiers express their discontent, Paul just seems tired. The first day he arrived on the Western Front, he was excited about some action. But the same day, one of his friends died and he realized just what he’d gotten himself into. Now, after more than a year of his service, he is completely disenchanted with his life. Whatever hope remained inside him is extinguished with the loss of his friends. Now, it just seems like he wants to get it over with. As he runs towards the French, we find him shutting off his emotions and preparing to kill as many enemies as possible.

He jumps into the trench and attacks a French soldier and lands in hand-to-hand combat. He almost drowns to death when the soldier shoves his face in a puddle. Paul hits him with a stone and, in the skirmish, they fall down a flight of stairs. By now, the French soldier has a gun in his hand while Paul is unarmed. Instead of shooting him, the soldier takes a step back and so does Paul. With only minutes left for the armistice to come into effect, it seems pointless for them to kill each other. They could just wait it out and walk out of it alive. Just when Paul thinks that he has made it, another French soldier comes from behind and stabs him in the back. It is a fatal wound, one that Paul will not recover from. As his attacker walks away, the armistice is put into effect and the war ends. Paul walks outside and, sitting in a corner, fades into death.

Image Credit: Reiner Bajo/Netflix

When Paul joins the army, he is told that he won’t last more than a week or two. With the war in full swing, the odds are stacked against him, but there is still hope. He takes it one day at a time, but the deaths of his friends and fellow soldiers remind him that any day could be his last. The one that hits him the hardest is Kat’s death. He dies at the hand of a young boy in the middle of an empty forest with no sounds of war to deafen them. His death seems extremely pointless and unnecessary. But then, does the death of any soldier in a war bear a point or necessity?

Kat’s demise shows Paul that death can come at any time, no matter where you are. There are people who survive all sorts of injuries and come out of one after another heated battle alive, with just a few scratches to tell the tale. And then there are people who die as soon as they take a step forward from the trenches or even when they are miles away from the battlefield. Death, then, is just another stroke of luck or absence of it. War, consequentially, is completely unfair. In the end, after all his good luck, surviving all of it for months on end, Paul finally falls right before peace comes knocking.

Through Paul’s death, the film drives home its point. There is no glory in war, or at least, not for most soldiers. Most of them die unworthy of getting a movie made about them and hence are often ignored in the otherwise illustrious stories of heroes who saved the day or died trying. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ shows the audience the brutal truth of war. It doesn’t hold back from the blood, the gore, and all the horrifying aspects of living in the trenches and losing your sense of self. It shows an innocent teenager turning into a hardened killing machine only to then run out of luck, just in time. It feels completely uncalled for, to root for a character all this while and then to see him die in a manner that won’t immortalize him. But this forgettable nature of death and the cruel nature of war is what it was all about.

Read More: Is Paul Based on a Real Life Soldier?