Good Bye Lenin!

Good Bye, Lenin! appears at first to be in the same genre as Life Is Beautiful (1998), since a son tries to fabricate reality for his mother, whose physical condition could deteriorate seriously if she were overstressed. Chronologically, the story begins in East Berlin during 1978, when Robert Kerner (played by Burghart Klaussner) leaves his wife and children for West Berlin after running into trouble with the Communist authorities. Christiane (played by Katrin Sass), the mother, tells her children that he has absconded with a girlfriend, but that comes after several weeks of appearing catatonic and not talking to anyone. Christiane then decides to become more active in Communist social activities, presumably to show that her politics is aboveboard; in time, her loyalty to Communist ideology merits an award from the state. Fastforward to 1989, when Christiane has a heart attack in the street as she observes her son Alex (played by Daniel Brühl), who has been participating in a demonstration against the government, as he is roughed up and arrested by the police. When Alex is released from prison to attend his mother at the hospital, he learns that she is in a coma. While dutifully visiting her in the comatose state, the Berlin Wall falls, and many changes develop in the Eastern part of the now-unified Berlin; Alex and his sister get rid of old furnishings and clothing and acquire new employment. Alex’s new job is to sell satellite dishes; his coworker is eager to transform his hobby of producing videos into a career. But when Christiane awakens from the coma after several weeks, her physician warns Alex that any overexcitement could prove fatal. Accordingly, Alex decides to take his mother home, to return her room to the original shabby condition, and to have his coworker produce fake videos as if the Berlin Wall were still standing. The setup facilitates many humorous scenes, though many are inside jokes for Germans alone. Less than humorous, however, are the tensions that develop between Alex and his sister Ariane (played by Maria Simon), who soon tires of the charade in which her participation is vital. One day, Christiane gets up from bed and walks, takes the elevator to the ground floor, and walks on the street outside her apartment building, which has been transformed rather dramatically; she witnesses as a helicopter carries a bust of Lenin past her. When Alex and Ariane find her in a puzzled state, they escort her home, and Alex has his coworker prepare a new videotape to explain that capitalism has failed, East Berlin has removed the Wall so that West Berliners who reject the crass materialism can flee to the East. Afterward, the family goes to their summer home, where Christiane admits that she lied about her husband’s departure, as she could also have escaped but decided not to do so, thus disappointing her husband, who remarries after waiting in vain for her to reply to his many letters. A few days later, Christiane has a fatal heart attack, the children summon her husband, and she dies in the happy belief that her ideals have triumphed. In short, Good Bye, Lenin!, directed by Wolfgang Becker, is a very serious film, demonstrating the chaos that resulted from the reunification of Germany, immediately depressing the standard of living for East Germans, as well as the triumph of a crass materialism over the ideals of building a prosperous society without class divisions. MH

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