Change represents progress yet so often, we find ourselves struggling to accept the changes in our lives and the world around us. Imagine waking up one day, only to see your whole ideology crumbling down. This is what one of the main characters in the 2003 comedy film Good Bye, Lenin! experiences in the film, albeit in more grave circumstances. Unlike the difficult films we previously watched in European Cinema class such as Bergman’s Persona and Godard’s A Woman is a Woman, Wolfgang Becker’s film was refreshing, interesting, and clever. Set in East Berlin, the film revolves around Alex who tries to hide the fall of the Berlin Wall from his mother, who is a hardcore socialist and just woke up from a coma.
What made the film interesting is the focus on the effect of national issues on common people and their lives. When discussing the Berlin Wall, more emphasis is given on the political issues or the violence that transpired. By shifting the focus on the reality for the people at that time, Good Bye Lenin! succeeds in attempting to show the true face of the world, aligned with Peter Wollen’s essay on Godard and Counter-Cinema: Vent d’Est. Most people were overjoyed with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, but the film shows that there are some people who had a a different ideology and in turn, the issue affected them differently. German reunification, then, is viewed as a personal experience. It was also remarkable to see Alex’s efforts to keep communism very much alive for his bed-ridden mother. By highlighting the love of a family, the film becomes more realistic and touching. Thus, the most poignant scene in the film was when Alex’s mother walks out of their apartment and sees the reunified Germany for the first time. The scoring, performances, and pacing were all done beautifully that the audience cannot help but feel the confusion of the mother and the panic of her children. You feel the urge to run towards the screen and hide the mother just so she will be protected from seeing her ideology crumbling down. Because of this, I believe that Good Bye Lenin! presents the authenticity of the characters and their situation effectively.
In the end, the film encourages us to inspect the German reunification from multiple perspectives and re-examine the narratives that may have fabricated, similar to what Alex did for his mother. He redecorated her room, repackages her favorite pickles, and created news reels to convince her of the continued existence of East Germany. By presenting a different perspective on the reunification of Germany, the film allows us to see that it was not as simple as the West winning over the East, or capitalism winning over socialism. Rather, Good Bye Lenin! invites us to examine the narratives of a nation and effects on the people, and provokes us into thinking that perhaps their reunification did not go as smoothly as we thought. They are still struggling to find their identity, just like how Alex’s mother found it difficult to accept the change.