Review: Good Bye Lenin
May 6, 2004 § Leave a Comment
Movies that suggest reality is not what seems have been popular lately, from “The Truman Show” to “The Matrix.” Adding a global voice to the chorus is director Wolfgang Becker’s “Good Bye, Lenin!”
Unlike its American counterparts, “Good Bye Lenin!” does not create a fictional scenario, but uses a real backdrop — East Germany — to make its point.
The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to come down. Diehard East German socialist and women’s fashion activist Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) suffers a heart attack in the midst of the turmoil and awakens from a coma eight months later to a changed world. Warned by the doctors that any little shock will cause another heart attack and probably death, her son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) decides to confine her to her old bedroom at home in an effort to hide what would be the biggest shock of all — the fact that Germany has been reunified and the Socialist government she swore allegiance to has fallen.
Growing up in East Germany could make altering the truth and controlling reality seem like a piece of cake, but Alex finds this is not the case — his cover-ups reach absurd levels. When Mom is hungry, Alex has to track down pre-unification food packaging to present it in. When Mom wants to watch some television to pass the time in her room, Alex has to obtain videotapes of old news programs to fool her. The joke here is that nothing ever changes in a totalitarian society, so Mom doesn’t even notice that this is news from several years ago.
Poor Alex is perpetually close to his own heart attack as he manipulates his mother’s reality, eventually even recording his own fake news broadcasts after Mom notices a Coca Cola sign outside her window and when she eventually walks out into the world and witnesses the upper half of Lenin’s statue being helicoptered away in a surreal and riveting moment.
Minutes earlier, she had been alerted that something was not right when she noticed the fuzzy pink lampshade of a new tenant — there would have never been a fuzzy pink lampshade anywhere in the East Germany she inhabited.
Alex utilizes all the tools of political propaganda — the same tools of the state that repressed him and his family for so long — for the exact same purpose: The misguided protection of the weak. What he is unprepared for is the realization that the political is personal and that the openness of one begets the openness of the other for the newly freed victims of a repressive society.
In hiding the truth from his mother, Alex uncovers revelations about his own family and the message is simply that the art of seeing yourself clearly comes first from seeing the world around you with equal clarity.
Peppered with subtle humor and poetic imagery, as well as creative and ironic use of archival footage, “Good Bye, Lenin!” teaches its own bittersweet lesson about the propaganda we pass around in daily life.