Goodbye, Lenin!

Aw man, I had forgotten so much of that movie since I was 16 and I am SO glad I saw it again. It’s a really German film, and I like how unapologetic it is in its storytelling of the alienation of the characters from their country.

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Like other films, it’s obvious that the parents in this film are a metaphor for the two halves of the country; The father represents West Germany and the mother represents East Germany. The lie that the father was seduced by a woman in the west is representative of how Western Germany was seen by Eastern Germany as having sold out to Capitalist ideals instead of maintaining some kind of German identity first. And I loved the reveal that the father didn’t really chose Capitalism and abandoned his children, but that he chose Freedom in whatever sense he wanted it to be. Especially in the few scenes with his second wife, you can tell that she looks much more “radical” than Alex’s mother. The wife’s hair is short, and dark. But she seems kind, and fashionable. She’s indicative of a different foreign country. This metaphor also makes the mother’s passing more beautiful. The West came of wish the East a fond farewell, despite everything that had happened between them.

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I mean, similar to many films, this was written with the idea to explore both the real impact of the reunification of Germany and to tell a touching story of family in the East. When I mentioned to a coworker the premise of the film before re-watching it, they asked if East Germany was “the bad one” which indicated to me the usual “us vs them” mentality of the Western world, especially America. We tend to see, and have been taught to see other modes of economic structure, such as communism and socialism as inherently evil, despite true communist and socialist never having existed in our current time. This film did its best to humanize East Germans, and to emphasize the positives of the socialist government that ruled them. The most obvious example of this is the fact that the community was so tight and close.

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Frau Kerner writing all those letters to companies with the help of her neighbors and friends shows how people got along because of the daily inconveniences that lack of choice created. One of my favorite scenes is the follow-up to this, when the upstairs neighbor comes for a fake visit and starts crying when Frau Kerner says some great lines about clothing not fitting correctly, because the neighbor felt so separated from other people after the wall fell. She really missed the way her life used to be.

I loved the theme of space travel, too, because it represented the cooperation of many, in that the mission was multi-national. The point was that we had to work together to get there. There are no countries in space, we are all the same. Alex pushes home in his Sigmund Jahn speech that after seeing the world from so far above, all the small issues we have with each other didn’t seem to be that big of a deal anymore. We were all too tiny to be really upset over such small things.

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I loved the few scenes with Alex and Lara cinematically the most, I think. The first date they go on in that weird burnt out building with that gigantic hole in the wall is amazing. The scene after Alex and his sister go to the bank only to find that their money is useless is beautiful as well. I love how bleak things seem as Alex just throws away all their old East German money, now that it has no value. It’s almost symbolizIng how all of a sudden all their customs and norms and routines have no place in a world that used to be built completely around them. It’s indicated that East Germany definitely got the shorter stick in that their world was destroyed while the West just got a huge present of a million more consumers forced to purchase their goods. The idea is especially pushed in the grocery scene when Alex realizes basically all brands he grew up with are gone forever, and now he has choices upon choices of what kind of pickles to get.

Of course, the best scene of the whole film (and the climax) is when Frau Kerner is watching over her granddaughter after Alex has fallen asleep. The granddaughter sees a capitalist blimp from the window and is practically yelling in the universal baby language for her grandmother to see it too. However, just as Frau Kerner makes it to the window, the blimp has just disappeared behind a building. The dramatic tension is released. Then, in the next beat, Frau Kerner decides to put on her jacket and head outside (pretty irresponsible of her) since she hasn’t been out in so long.

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It’s a great tease of the audience, as they had just relaxed before everything was ruined. That same window played a great role earlier in the film during Frau Kerner’s birthday party when she saw the Coca-Cola poster unfurl just in her line of sight.

The worst part of the film is that it’s slow. It takes 30 minutes for the first act to complete. It’s a lot of backstory, which I think is actually really useful for an American like me, but feels like it might have been pretty redundant for a non-foreign audience, who I assume would recognize most of the recent historical events that happened in their own country. Plus, no offense to the actor himself, but the casting director really made a bad choice in the kid who played young Alex. They couldn’t look less alike.

All-in-all, a really well rounded and worthwhile film. The layers of metaphor don’t drag down the pathos of the family drama or make the drama stale. And the beauty of a family doing their best to stick together in the aftermath of several tragedies.

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