Was it Worth it? Food and War in All Quiet on the Western Front
by Carson Jolly
On the front lines of World War I, food became a luxury as well as a necessity. In All Quiet on the Western Front, this contradiction is shown in full effect.
When we are first introduced to Paul Baumer, he is an excited soldier ready to defend his country. Manipulated with nationalism and pride, Paul maintains a positive mindset even after walking by wounded soldiers. When Paul and his friends arrive at the trench, they quickly find themselves facing a bombing. Hungry, cold, and facing death, one of Paul’s friends says: “Be careful what you eat, that's what my mother said.” Noting how many people, including them, underestimated the consequences of war. Later, Paul is dug out of the rubble by a man named Kat, who would later become his mentor. Kat gives him a piece of bread, which Paul devours. After just two days at war, it is clear that Paul is desperate for food.
Later, the movie jumps ahead 18 months, and we see Paul and Kat walking through a field, clearly not in battle. They walk over to a house and stop outside the property's wall. Kat asks Paul, “Are you sure this is worth it?” to which Paul responds, “Anything is worth it if you are staving.” Hearing this, Kat scales the wall, leaving Paul to wait outside. After a few minutes, Kat comes running out with a goose; Paul joins him and they flee while bullets from the homeowner whizz past their head (Figure 1). They bring the goose back to base and cook it for some of the other soldiers. While it's cooking, all the soldiers laugh and tell stories. This is the lightest and happiest scene in the movie. When the goose is done, everyone indulges in their meal, and no one speaks.
It is not much later that we see Paul, Kat, and all of the soldiers who once indulged in goose rushing towards the enemy trenches. We see a few of those same soldiers die on the battlefield, just mere minutes (in movie time) after they were singing, dancing, and eating. We then follow Paul and Kat as they make their way through the enemy trench, slaughtering dozens of soldiers along the way. At some point, they end up in the kitchen, which is littered with high-quality food. During the middle of battle, Paul and Kat drop everything without saying a word and start eating whatever they can get their hands on. This is a call back to what Paul said earlier about anything being worth it if you are hungry. After a few minutes of overindulgence, the pair returns to the battle.
After barely surviving countless battles, the pair hear that a treaty has been signed to end the war. With rations low and morale high, the pair decided to return to the house where they stole the goose, hoping for a feast. This time, things do not go as planned. Kat is shot and dies shortly after making it back to base. Paul is devastated; after surviving hell, his best friend and mentor dies as a result of greed. This is a call back to the last time they stole from the house, when Paul said, “Anything is worth it if you are staving.”
Overall, the conditions of war stripped humanity from Paul and Kat, leaving them with two motivations: survival and food. When either of those things presented themselves, nothing else mattered. During wartime, this was vital, but for Paul and Kat, this mindset continued post-war. Under this different context, their actions represented greed and overindulgence rather than survival, which ultimately led to Kat’s death.
All Quiet on the Western Front. Simone Bar. Dir. Edward Berger. Dir. Michael Weber. Perf. Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch. Daniel Radcliffe. Aaron Hilmer. Netflix, 2022. Streaming.