Good bye, Lenin! (15)

Jan 12, 2005
Cranbrook Film Society

In East Germany in 1989, a young man protests against the regime. His mother watches the police arresting him has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Some months later, the GDR no longer exists and the mother comes round. She has to avoid any excitement so the son tries to set up the GDR again for her in their flat.

The story confronts the perversion of perception and the manipulation of reality and at the same time addresses the confusing national identity crisis suffered by Germans when the Berlin Wall came down. Like twins reunited after a long separation, there was an awkward re-acclimatisation process that few films are interested in exploring.

The film asks questions about how much right one person has to define the reality of another. Becker makes cogent arguments for both sides of the issue, then leaves it to us to determine the verdict. His purpose is to tell a story, not to judge the characters.

Berlin is in turmoil. Hoenicker’s iron fist, gloved by the Stasi, is beginning to lose its grip. East Berliners are heading west in droves; bleeding out through Hungary. When Christiane comes out of her coma her daughter, Ariane, has a new boyfriend, Rainer, and Alex has fallen in love with Lara, one of her nurses. These small human dramas are insignificant compared to what has happened outside; the Wall is down and the wound dividing East from West is healing.

Christiane has a weak heart and her doctor warns that any shock could kill her. Alex decides that he has to hide the fall of the Wall from his mother, so he concocts a fake world in which Hoenicker is still in power and socialism remains potent. With the help of a would-be filmmaker friend, Denis he creates mock newscasts.

The deeper Alex gets into his fictional world, the more convinced his girlfriend and sister are that he is doing the wrong thing, but Alex will not be dissuaded. He believes that his actions are saving his mother. But what will happen when she is well enough to get out of bed and begin to explore the world outside her room?

What Alex does for Christiane is not the only example of reality manipulation. Another character has also promulgated a big lie. When this is revealed, it touches a number of lives and feeds into Alex’s fantasy world. Of course, one wonders from the beginning whether Christiane suspects her son is up to something but, since she is weak and bedridden, she has no choice but to trust him.

What we have to determine is whether or not his actions are betraying her trust. Does she have the right to know, even if it kills her?

Good Bye, Lenin! is filled with many lightly comedic moments and, in its development of the relationship between Alex and Lara, there is romance, although the film is not a romantic comedy. The actors all do fine jobs, especially Daniel Brühl, who exhibits escalating pent-up stress as Alex’s fabricated world spins out of control, and Kathrin Sass, whose Christiane hides a secret or two. Perhaps most interesting to the non-German viewer is the exposure Becker provides of the social and political currents that were in force during that period. It is not a step-by-step chronicle of German reunification, but it gives a perspective of the time.

Wolfgang Becker | Germany | 2003 | 121 minutes | 15