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Friday, November 14, 2014

Filme Friday - Goodbye Lenin! (2003)

I remember seeing the poster for this movie, hearing some amazing reviews, and thinking it was a comedy (maybe because IMDb labels it as one).  For some reason, that idea stuck with me years after I first saw it and I convinced my non-German-speaking guy to watch it with me.  Oops.

(source: IMDb)

While it's not a movie with constant laughs, it definitely has some amusing moments and is somewhat of a dark comedy.  It is definitely more of a drama than anything else though. The movie is amazing, but I know from experience that people expecting a comedy may be turned off pretty quickly.  It's also two hours long, which is my limit for most dramas.  Regardless, it's worth watching at least once.

The movie begins with the main character and narrator, Alex recalling his childhood growing up in East Berlin.  The scenes shows family home movies, the Sandmännchen TV program, and Sigmund Jähn becoming the first German to go into space.  Alex recalls his father leaving the family for West Germany and this causing his mother to put all her passion towards pushing East Germany's communist agenda.  This introduction leading to the movie's setting shows a rather neutral picture of the East while the wall was up.  It is less politicized and more a story that could happen to anyone.

It is quickly apparent, however, that Alex is aware of what he is missing in the West and disillusioned with the government and his lack of freedom.  Part of this is due to his childhood dream of being the second German astronaut never becoming a reality.  He is instead a TV repairman, living with his mother, and his unwed sister and her daughter.  While he does not hold strong opinions, he still attends a protest with people chanting for freedom of the press and no more wall.  Like many others, he is arrested and sent to jail.

East and West TV repairmen teaming up (source: IMDb)

While with the group of protesters in jail, Alex learns that his mother had a heart attack and fell into a coma.  Alex remains devoted to his mother, constantly visiting while she is still unconscious.  However, the world continues to move around them, and within a couple of months, the wall is down and the citizens of East Berlin have newfound freedoms.  Outside of his hospital visits, Alex also moves on.  He visits the West, indulges in the new culture, and starts dating a hospital nurse he had met at the protest.  Then, in another sudden turn of events, Alex's mother wakes up.

Alex's first trip to West Berlin

The doctor warns Alex that any shock may cause his mother to fall ill again or even die, and Alex is faced with the challenge of hiding this new world to protect his mother. While everyone is initially on board with this plan, his relationships with his girlfriend, sister, and friends become strained because of these efforts. It leaves the viewer wondering if he can pull it off and whether he should.

A fake newscast created to fool Alex's mother (source: IMDb)

The interesting thing about this movie is that it focuses on a generation wanting freedom and change, not knowing their wish was about to come true. The time when the country was divided only lasts for a short part of the film, but the division influences everything. 

The film also did not seem to take one side and sympathized with all citizens. While there were freedom fighters like Alex's girlfriend, there were plenty struggling the adapt to a unified Germany. This contrast is shown mostly by age. Those in their 20's and younger are eager to embrace everything new, while older generations either aren't sure how to proceed or want things back to normal. There is an ambiguity to who is right, if anyone. I finished watching with a sense that every system is broken.

Alex's sister at her new Western Burger King job (source: IMDb)

There is an idealism that is reborn in Alex because of his charade. He recreates history for his mother to explain certain things he can't hide. His imagined history paints a picture of how East Germany could have been successful. Alex seems to accept that the West has it's faults, even though he prefers it. But, his stories intertwine East and West ideals, showing an impossible idealism. He accepts that no system is perfect, but wants his mother to experience the best version he created. 

Perhaps being slightly older than Alex's character made it easy to relate to this movie on my second viewing. I understand thinking there must be a system and a way to fix everything and feeling lost at the realization that nothing like that can exist. We all hold different ideas of what is best and have our own views of how to accomplish similar goals. I've come to love a German saying recently: "Gerade, weil wir alle in einem Boot sitzen, sollten wir heilfroh darüber sein, dass nicht alle auf unserer Seite stehen." Roughly translated, "since we're all in the same boat, we should be glad that not everyone is standing on our side." We need the diversity of thoughts and opinions to function. This was part of the problem with East Germany: people were heavily censored and could not express their differences. And if they tried, they were punished. By the same token, the ideals that helped shape East Germany should be considered and not ignored. Not everyone can be satisfied, but we all should be free to believe what we want and generally live how we want. Obviously, I'm not a fan of East Germany or what it did to the country as a whole, but especially after decades of separation, both sides need to be considered. 

Alex and his girlfriend struggle too maintain the charade and embrace the new freedom (source: IMDb)

This movie is very thought-provoking and it should be. The subject matter is heavy, even just in the characters' personal lives. It's a great story that leaves a lot of "what if?" and "what really happened?" questions to ponder. The part when the family revisits their old vacation home really made me think during this viewing. It's interesting how some people changed themselves to cope with a horrible and unfair situation. 

A very telling moment near the end (source: IMDb)

Definitely not a movie to watch casually, but it deserves a viewing. It gives a great look into what Berlin and its citizens faced after the wall came down. 

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