From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, April 12, 2004

Movie Review: Good Bye, Lenin!

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) Director - Wolfgang Becker; Starring - Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon; Screenplay - Wolfgang Becker and Bernd Lichtenberg; Rated R for some language and sexuality.

There are times when I am truly stunned by how much the world has changed and how much history I have seen in the time I have been alive. Technological and medical advances have gone light years beyond what we thought they might when I was in grade school. The world map has been drastically redrawn. The potential for the future seems to be limited only by the imagination.

As always when there is radical change, there are those who prefer the world that once was over the world that is or might be. People may cling to the past out of a fanatical devotion to the concepts and ideologies that they invested faith in, regardless of whether those concepts may have been disproved. History has shown that there have always been, and will always be what we might today call "flat earthers". For them, to acknowledge that the world has changed could be so potentially tumultuous for them that they feel it might threaten their very lives.

Good Bye, Lenin! takes this concept, and runs with it in some very entertaining questions. It provokes questions that may invite the audience to question the things that define a person as a representative of their home country. And it does so with a great deal of genuine warmth and affection.

What is Good Bye, Lenin!
Alex Kerner (Daniel Bruehl) is a young adult in East Germany in the late 1980s. He comes from what might today be referred to as a dysfunctional family. Alex's father long ago disappeared, having run off with a mistress to the West. His mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a devout supporter of the ruling Socialist Party. Both Alex and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are just trying to find their place within the society that they know as they grow into young adults. Not different at all from young adults in the West.

One night, Christiane sees Alex being arrested at a pro-Democracy rally. The shock induces a heart attack which pushes Christiane into a coma. As she lies in a hospital bed for several months, the world moves ahead light years around her. The Berlin Wall falls, the two Germanies are reunited, and her children make choices that would not have been available to them under the old regime. When Christiane comes out of her coma, Alex is advised by her doctor that any sudden shocks could be enough to kill her. Alex tried to solve the problem in the best way he can think of. He tries to keep his mother immersed in a complex lie that keeps the old German Democratic Republic alive within the confines of their home. But the lie gets bigger and bigger as Alex comes to learn just how much the world has really changed.

Sounds like it could get kind of silly.
I think that if this story had been told from the American point of view, it could have been. There are times where you have to remind yourself that from a historical perspective our nation is still just an adolescent when compared to the European nations. I think it's this European perspective that helps keep a steady hand on the story and keep it from getting too far out of reach.

Bruhl as Alex does a really good job of making the audience understand all the differences the world can play "Gotcha!" with you as you try and comprehend all the ways the country has changed with such a radical political and ideological shift in so brief a period of time. There's a subplot with Alex on a seemingly quixotic quest to find a jar of his mother's favorite pickles. It shows the flip side to capitalism: he's overwhelmed with the number of choices of pickles available to him, but none of these choices are the brand he actually wants.

Interesting. So the story moves along well?
The story moves at a really good pace, due to the strength of the story, the performers, and some really smart choices in the editing. As Alex gets further into the lie that he's created, bringing his sister, his new girlfriend Lara, and his mother's old friends and colleagues down into the hole he's digging, he comes to understand that it's not just about creating the world as his mother knew it. He realizes that he's getting a chance to reshape history and the world in the way he would have liked to see it happen. In the process, some of the frustration and disenchantment he felt for himself and his place in the world is given a chance to heal. It's just as therapeutic in helping him grow up as it is in protecting his mother's health. Which is why the curveballs that get thrown in at about the 3/4 mark of the movie buckle his knees even harder than they would have normally.

In the end, Alex has to reconcile that what defines himself, and his mother as Germans is just as fundamentally what exists between the two of them and their relationship, as it is what happens in the outside world and the society in which they live. That understanding is what carries the movie to an ending that is both sad and very deeply satisfying for me.

So you dig it?
Very much so. It's a movie that says a hell of a lot in a short period of time. The two hour runtime flies right by you. And it's a really informative and thoughtful look at that particular period in history. You feel that in a lot of respects Director Wolfgang Becker is putting a lot of his own personal confusion and frustration over the changes in his country out on the screen. And I get the feeling that this movie is every bit as healing for him as it ultimately proves for Alex and Christiane in the time that we get to know them. It ultimately makes for a very satisfying film.