A Film Review: GOOD BYE LENIN!

GOOD BYE, LENIN!THE END OF AN ERA

GOODBYE LENIN

“Socialism doesn’t mean live behind a Wall. Socialism means reach the others and live with the others.”                                                                               Sigmund Jähn[1]

With Good Bye, Lenin!; director, Wolfgang Becker, takes history at its most momentous times and wraps it around two figures who couldn’t be more potently iconic- a young East Berliner, Alex Kerner and his mother, Christiane Kerner who is a supporter of communist East Germany. In the beginning of the film which in fact takes place in 1989, Alex is arrested by police due to his participation in a protest to demand the fall of the Berlin Wall. His mother sees this and faints who could only open her eyes after an eight-month coma, in which the GDR[2] collapses at this period, her daughter starts working for Burger King and Berlin Wall falls, into the bargain. Hence, Alex decides not to tell her mother what happened since it can adversely affect her health. From that onward; we, as the audience, watch Alex while pretending as if everything is just the same as it was before.

Throughout the movie, we see that Alex somehow “revives” the East Germany. When Christiane, in a scene, sees a billboard for Coca-Cola on a building, Alex says that Coca-Cola in reality belongs to GDR in which they recently manage to take the patent from the West. He even makes video clips of the Wall’s collapse so that it looks like the people in West Germany looking for ways to pass to East Germany who admire communism. In another scene; from the garbage Alex takes East Germany-labeled empty jars, or gives money to kids to dress like Young Pioneers[3] to sing for his mother. When Alex’s mother wants to watch television for example; with the help of one of his friends, he makes fake news footage. Good Bye, Lenin! tells in this sense a boy’s devotion, love, effort, belief for his mother.

This film not only investigates the depths of effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall on people’s lives, but also questions the consequences of a rapid change for an unprepared society with the fall of communism through the footage of the emergence of capitalist brands in the streets & supermarkets, through the fall of Lenin’s statue, employment of the youth in capitalist corporations. At the end of the movie, Christiane confesses that her teaching career is in fact adversely affected by communist authorities and thereby admitting the difficulties people experienced under the strict authority of East Germany. In fact, her story resembles the story of East Germany which ends therefore by identifying the story of Christiane with the fall of the Wall. Likewise, the East German identity is based on the second-class status in which East Berliners have felt being isolated, displaced and impoverished in a new “country” emerged after German unification with the fall of the Wall. Good Bye, Lenin! is in this sense a socially, economically and culturally informative movie which has historical continuities in today’s world.

After the rise of populist movements, the future of democracy in the world is being re-questioned. A feeling of anxiety and uncertainty is present in the world due to neoliberal policies, global economic crises in 2008, the recent terror events and large numbers of refugees. Today we are incredibly freer than our great grandfathers were. But we tend to exchange it for security. Hence, people want politicians who take responsibility for the future and therefore we tend to escape from freedom in Fromm[4]’s words. According to the opinion polls, people, especially those who worsened off due to neoliberal policies- want greater restrictions on immigration in Europe due to the fear of job loss and loss of traditional culture where unemployment and economic uncertainties are becoming more prevalent. At this stage therefore, it is extremely important for cooperation between international/regional organizations, states, legal associations, scholars and civil society to find a permanent solution for the ongoing problems and the risk of reversal of democracies. Not only is Good Bye, Lenin! in this sense an impressive evidence of amoral and politically urgent questions of our time, but it’s also a historical reminder that the authorities should pause, absorb critiques, question themselves and act in the name of “humanity.”

Gülşen DOĞAN

[1] : He is an East German cosmonaut who is the first German in space.

[2] :GDR stands for German Democratic Republic which was a socialist state in East Germany from 1949 to 1990.

[3] : It is a youth organization for children aged between 6 to 14 in East Germany.

[4] : See Eric Fromm’s, a German social psychologist, Escape From Freedom.

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