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Encyclopedia > Goodbye Lenin
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DVD cover for Goodbye Lenin

Good bye, Lenin! is a German tragic comedy film, released internationally in 2003. It can be seen as part of the ostalgie movement. Directed by Wolfgang Becker, the cast includes Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon and Florian Lukas.

Contents

Story overview

To protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.


Tagline: The German Democratic Republic lives on -- in 79 square meters!


Plot

The film is set in the East Berlin of 1989 to 1990. The premise of the film is that Alexander Kerner's mother, Christiane Kerner, an ardent, though more practically-minded than ideological, supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, following a heart attack she suffered when she saw Alex being beaten by police who mistook him for an anti-government demonstrator. After eight months she comes out of the coma, but is very weak both physically and mentally, and doctors say that any shock may cause another attack. Thinking that the events of the fall of the wall would be too much for her to bear, the film depicts the attempt by her family to maintain the illusion that things are as normal in the GDR. To this end, they revert the flat to its previous drab communist-era decor, dress in their old clothes, and find old labelled food jars into which western products are placed. Since Christiane is bedridden, the deception works for a while, but becomes increasingly complicated and elaborate. Alexander makes use of a friend with ambitions to become a film maker to edit tapes of old news broadcasts and create new ones to explain away some of the strange changes that, despite everything, Christiane occasionally witnesses.


In one surreal scene, Christiane wanders outside the flat while Alex is asleep, and sees all her neighbours' old furniture piled up in the street for garbage collection, a car dealer selling BMWs instead of Trabants, and then a huge military helicopter flies past carrying an enormous statue of Lenin, who appears to be waving to Christiane. Alex and his sister find her and take her back to the flat. Later, she can't be sure if it was real or not.


A side-plot involves the earlier defection to the West of Alexander's father when Alexander was a child, an event which apparently sent his mother temporarily insane, and was explained away by her to the children as being because of another woman. Following this she became an ardent supporter of the party. Later it transpires that this is itself a deception, and that the defection was planned by them both but she bailed out to protect her children. Alexander's sister, now working in a Burger King drive-through, one day sees her original father, with a new family. Christiane later admits the deception and Alexander goes to find his father, partly for himself and his sister, and partly to honour Christiane's dying wish that she would like to see him one last time.


Christiane relapses, and is once again in hospital. Under pressure to reveal the truth about the fall of the East, Alexander breaks the news of change to his mother gently by another fake news program. He recently bumped into his childhood hero, Sigmund Jähn, the first German in space - now driving a taxi. In the fake news program, Jähn is apparently the new leader of East Germany, and gives a speech promising to make a better future by opening the borders to the West. Christiane is very impressed by the broadcast, but in fact already knows the truth, as Alexander's girlfriend revealed everything when Alexander was not around. By this time Alexander has recreated the GDR in his own image for her benefit, and it is this that she is really impressed by, but does not want to hurt him by revealing that she knows the real truth. The tables are turned completely, and it is Alex who is being protected from reality. Christiane dies soon afterwards, and Alex never knows that she did, in the end, know the truth.


The film is a wonderful commentary about truth and deception, but is also a finely acted comedy and an exercise in nostalgia. Just as Alex is deluding his mother, she has been deluding the children all her life about their father, and in the end is the one deluding Alex that she is still in the dark about his deception. All of the delusions are done with the very best of motives, and can be seen as a metaphor for the GDR's attitude to its own citizens. The film also makes clear that, in hindsight, the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany was perhaps carried out with undue haste, and in doing so did not permit the East German state to die with dignity. Alex's deceptions at least allow his mother to die with dignity, and each of them is a metaphor for different aspects of the East German state, with its routine deceptions, but unduly hasty demise. The film deliberately plays into the hands of those who nostalgically feel that somehow the "old days" were better than what followed, and in the end, the final deception is the one played on the audience.


Soundtrack

Main article: Goodbye, Lenin! (soundtrack album)


The music is composed by Yann Tiersen with the exception of the non-instrumental version of Summer 78 sung by Claire Pichet.


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