Among all the films in the class so far that I’ve seen, Good Bye Lenin is the one I’ve been most impressed by. The film knows how to be amusing despite being a drama at heart, and the performances just help elevate the film to a level that is simply admirable, just like the main character’s actions.
The film’s plot concerns Alex (Daniel Bruhl) and his mother (Katrin Sass). Alex’s mother is a hardcore socialist who uprooted her family to live in a Socialist state in East Berlin. One day, she suffers a heart attack and winds up in a coma. During her coma, major events happen. The Berlin Wall is torn down, Berlin’s borders are reopened, and capitalism comes to East Berlin. When she finally wakes up, Alex, out of concern for her fragile state, decides to pretend and stage an elaborate ruse to fool her about the current state of the world by manufacturing a reality around his mother that things are the way she left it.
The storyline was unique because while children deceiving their parents out of concern is a storyline that has been done by many other films before, the way Good Bye Lenin does this is that it is not just something as simple as getting parents back together like The Parent Trap, it is something that affects everyone in the film and this moment is intentionally being suppressed from an individual. It is a fascinating look as you can really see the differences. From a simple background to a large city landscape that has Coca-Cola branding and Burger King’s, the way the film establishes atmosphere is that like its characters, the viewer is thrust into a world that is slowly being affected by change.
It is this specific atmosphere that makes the ruse to fool Alex’s mother even more amusing – when something as simple as a Coca Cola billboard potentially being discovered is effective at bringing forth laughs, that’s when one knows how effective the film’s atmosphere is. It’s also not just laughs, some serious ramifications of the changes in the film’s world are also shown – such as how the forgetfulness of Alex’s mother leads to the family losing thousands of money due to them both not being able to find her bank book and not being able to tell her about what has happened.
What also makes the movie even better are the performances. Daniel Bruhl as Alex portrays his character with multiple layers. While on the surface the character just seems to be a loving son, he is able to insert multiple emotions and gestures to fully flesh out his character to be more than that. More than a loving son, he is also a romantic and a creative planner. Katrin Sass is also fantastic as the mother. There is a particularly powerful scene in the middle of the film where Alex’s mother eventually gains enough strength to get out of bed and walk on her own. The way the camera follows her face as she steps out of her son’s manufactured reality and into the world’s reality perfectly encapsulates the confusion of the character herself and without saying a single word, Sass just manages to not just convey the needed emotions of the scene, but also more.
Overall, while the film is something that is admittedly a bit more straightforward than the previous films I have seen in this class, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Good Bye Lenin is a fantastic movie that wonderfully balances both Drama and Comedy and serves as an interesting period piece on the changes of Germany after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.