The events of the recently-released movie ‘The King’s Man’ unravels during the First World War, making it a prequel of the previous two films. This action-filled espionage drama pays homage to one of the earliest and most popular authors that depicts the war without the farce of romanticizing – Erich Maria Remarque. Namely, the trench warfare scenes making several notable references to Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. The main and most shocking plot twist of the movie, which is Conrad’s death during his time on the frontline, is built upon several key features of writings about war by Remarque and other writers of “the lost generation”.
“The lost generation” is a term that appeared in the literature of the early twentieth century and it describes millions of people who, not even in their adulthood yet, experienced the deadliest war that has ever unraveled. The most famous authors that dedicated their writings to the experiences of this generation, while being a part of that generation, are Remarque and Hemingway. Topics which these two and many others extensively cover are disillusionment from romanticized patriotism, chaotic reality of warfare, meaninglessly unfathomable randomness of death, and emotional degradation caused by continuous witnessing of butchery violence and constant loss of comrades. There are no happy endings for the lost generation, not even after the war. There are no righteous or deserved deaths; reasons never go beyond a gamble of the trigger pulled by a stranger in an undecided direction.
The characters of Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ follow the same path as the movie’s Conrad: inspired by their youthful exuberance in quest of patriotic glory, followed by the regret in the face of a complete disaster of the actual war – the realization that comes way too late for all of them. The explicit reference to this particular novel is in the scene where Conrad carries his injured comrade through intense cross-fire, somehow very luckily delivering him to the safety of their own trenches only to discover that his rescue was in vain, his friend died at the very last moment. This exact scene of absurdly, inexplicably, frustratingly unheroic rescue is described in the conclusion of ‘All Quiet’. Conrad’s first encounter with that injured soldier describes his complete disappointment in the reality of war, when all his patriotism and imaginary expectations fly out the window along with the search for any kind of meaning for things happening around him. Consequently, his infuriatingly stupid death now makes us, the viewers emotionally connected to the character, realize how absurd it all is. The protagonist you are rooting for dies of friendly fire because of some dumb misunderstanding, and all you can do is just sit there and try to digest the unforgiving shock. Conrad and the viewer both realize the intensity of the following: there are no protagonists in war.