Goodbye Lenin

Goodbye Lenin
Made in: Germany
Language: German
Director: Wolfgang Becker
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaussner
Year: 2003

Synopsis: It's the fall of 1989. Alex Kerner (Daniel Bruhl - I had to remove the umlaut over the 'u' to make this page more search-engine friendly) and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) live with their mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) in jolly old East Berlin.

Their father Robert (Burghart Klaussner) apparently abandoned the family years ago for a new life in the West. In an effort to deal with this loss, Christiane dedicates herself to helping the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (of the DDR) where she gains a reputation for being a great citizen.

As disillusionment with the East German system reaches a boiling point, Alex joins a peaceful but vocal demonstration, and is arrested when the crowd clashes with police. Incidentally, Christiane witnesses her son being hauled off by the cops, and suffers a massive heart attack.

Released by the police so he can care for his mother, Alex finds that Christiane is alive but in a coma. Eight months pass, the Berlin Wall comes down, and Germany is reunified.

Christiane eventually wakes up from her coma, but is still in a fragile mental and physical state. Her doctor warns Alex and Ariane that exposure to any serious stress can cause a second, and fatal, heart attack.

Since Christiane has been a good socialist all her life, what could be more heart-attack inducing than the realization that everything she once stood for has been replaced by democracy, liberty, free-market competition, and a Stasi-free existence?

For his bed-ridden mother's sake, Alex reorganizes their apartment so it appears unchanged from the days of communism. He goes out of his way to keep the charade going, and even creates phony news broadcasts with the help of his video expert friend, Denis (Florian Lukas). The tapes, and other outdated news broadcasts from former East German stations, are later played from a hidden VCR connected to his mother's television.

But of course, Alex and his sister can't keep the act going forever, and one day Christiane must learn the truth...

The Good: Goodbye Lenin is a well organized, thought-provoking film with a smart premise. Daniel Bruhl plays an excellent protagonist, and director Wolfgang Becker creates a very personal, up-close look at a pivotal moment in history by concentrating on only a few characters.

Full of humor, irony, and cleverly presented political commentary, Goodbye Lenin is an intelligent, complex, and often moving film that covers the gamut of being a coming-of-age story and psychological drama.

The Bad: The movie is a little drawn out, and the political message seems a bit muddled at times. As he cares for his mother, Alex begins to understand and sympathize with her political ideals. Yet the act of creating the illusion that East Germany still exists (for the sake of Christiane's health) appears to be strong criticism of state controlled information and lack of civil liberties under the previous system.

Yet at times Wolfgang Becker paints a more nostalgic, romanticized picture of East Germany, which I found a bit troubling. Having friends and family who experienced life under similar regimes, the overwhelming sentiment that I keep coming across is that totalitarianism ain't no picnic.

Granted that capitalism isn't always perfect, Goodbye Lenin seems to peddle a belief in some kind of theoretical utopia that socialism can offer, which I found to be naïve given the amount of historical evidence to the contrary. But hey, it's just a movie, right?

Plus, not long before viewing this film I watched the movie Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) so that could have influenced my viewing experience.

Who would like this film: As far as foreign films go, Goodbye Lenin is for you if you've lived in Germany during this time period, or have above-average knowledge of this moment in history.

Overall, it's an insightful look at the cultural, psychological, and economic impact as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'd recommend this movie for foreign film fans, and even though it isn't perfect (and you may not agree with it's political statements), it will definitely generate intelligent debate/discussion among people of all political stripes.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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