“A country we kept alive”: Goodbye, Lenin! (2003)

dir. Wolfgang Becker

Out of all the films we’ve seen so far, ‘Goodbye, Lenin!’ is the first with a clear linear narrative structure and is probably one of the simplest in terms of style and technique. Surprisingly, it is also my least favorite and the one that I felt the most detached to (and this is coming from someone who saw L’Avventura a few weeks ago).

Admittedly, I’m not that good with history. It’s a weakness of mine and I can’t really find the motivation to immerse myself with understanding all of its intricacies. I understand its importance and I realize that everything that I’ve said up to this point only makes me look ignorant. Please know that I still make the effort to understand the most notable events in history and I do further research when needed. I just don’t enjoy it as much as a lot of people do.

Now that I’ve said my disclaimer and established myself as a non-history buff, I can say that it took me some time to understand what was really happening in ‘Goodbye, Lenin!’. Props to the film though, I think they managed to explain the situation concisely and they did include important historical events in the movie gracefully. I had to read up on the differences between socialism, communism, and capitalism to fully understand how significant this shift was in German culture but afterwards, I recognized that a lot of the scenes in the movie backed up the information that I read really well.

The movie itself is a nice mix of comedy and drama with several touching moments sprinkled in throughout. It’s most impressive sequence is when Alex’s mother steps out of her isolated room for the first time and sees the current capitalistic state of Germany. She is bombarded by the vibrancy of a totally different culture and we understand the shock that she feels with every step that she takes. The disembodied Lenin floating across the sky seemingly waving at her feels like a fever dream come to life and it’s one of the best images that this film has produced.

The movie managed to make complex ideologies feel approachable. It’s a great way to introduce these things: to view a serious topic through a smaller scale lens which in this particular case is the mother’s room. It carries criticism without being overbearing, and tackles several themes such as nostalgia in creative ways.

Alex is a very relatable character. He has big dreams for himself, is passionate, and is motivated by the love that he has for his family. He is driven by the desire to protect his mother. We understand the incredible lengths that he goes on in order to keep a lie because we know what is at stake. He never truly lets go of his original love for the stars but instead he has to choose something more realistic given his circumstances, which is something I think the majority of us can relate to.

His best friend, who further strengthens his character traits, is my favorite character of the bunch. Editing a wedding video to resemble ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’s’ most famous shot has to be one of the most enjoyable moments in the film for me.

It’s a film with a lot of heart and you can see it shine through the character’s performances. The only reason I have for not liking it as much as the other films is that it doesn’t give me the creativity or freedom to explore themes or characters as much because a lot of it is pretty straightforward. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting watch and I’m glad I got to see a premise such as this one.

The film ends with a farewell to Alex’s mother, a poignant scene captured beautifully.

“She’s up there somewhere now. Maybe looking down at us. Maybe she sees us as tiny specks on the Earth’s surface, just like Sigmund Jähn did back then. The country my mother left behind was a country she believed in; A country we kept alive till her last breath; A country that never existed in that form; A country that, in my memory, I will always associate with my mother.”

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