The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Goodbye, Lenin!

This is a German import from 2004, looking back on the movement of East Germany towards unification and Westernization. That sounds like a boring historical documentary, but the movie is a fictional family drama that uses the fall of the wall as a backdrop and catalyst for a story about a devoted son trying to shield his mother from stress after she wakes from a heart attack and coma that overly weakens her frail body. That sounds like a heavy Lifetime Network chick flick, but it’s actually a fairly light farce at many times, with that typical dry German humor that takes a few seconds to register as a joke at all.

I don’t have to worry about spoilers in the main plot line of the movie, as it does not depend on surprise for its effectiveness. We start with events in the 1970’s, viewing a happy family in Socialist East Berlin. The mother is an idealistic believer in the Socialist system, but her son becomes a bit more disaffected as he grows older. In 1989, as protests start to grow, the mother suffers a shock that lays her out, throwing her into a coma (we have seen from earlier incidents that she is prone to physical/emotional frailty). With typical movie logic (you just have to take this in order to let the movie develop), she wakes up, but the doctors say that she can’t experience any stress, shock, or excitement or it could kill her.

Unfortunately, the months she spent in the coma include the entire dismantling of the Socialist system in East Germany and reunification with the West. So the son decides to shield her from any of these events and create a “bubble world” around her where things are the same as she remembers them. This is difficult to do, given the rampant upheaval in every aspect of society around them. He enlists co-conspirators and there are funny bits as he tries to cover up breaks in the facade.

The acting of the leads is excellent. The filmwork is quite acceptable and never pulls you out of the story (Except in one digital effects shot late in the movie, which kills the realism they careful strived for. You’ll know it when you see it.). The writer/director does a nice job of leading you to a point of view that is a bit wistful and surprising.

While the movie seems to be about the love between the boy and his mother, in a larger sense it is the love of idealism and the conflict between the goals and the realities of the East German lifestyle. It also touches on the manipulative power of media-controlled imagery and the relative nature of truth. Each of us knows a truth based on what we are shown, and it’s not that difficult to create a reality that is subjective rather than objective.

I enjoyed watching this film and recommend it. Parents’ note: There is a curse word in the English subtitles, but all dialog is in German. There is one brief shot of male nudity in a non-sexual context and one shot of female breasts in a weird (and probably inappropriate) context.

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