Nostalgia is unique in that it doesn’t discriminate. We
not only feel nostalgic for simpler, happier times or for people
and possessions we once loved, but often for the things we hated or
Like the ’80s retro fad now ravaging the countryside
— the times were bad, the fashions were horrendous, and the
cheesy synth-pop was undeniably awful — for those who
experienced that decade, there is some sort of fondness in our
hearts for it.
Wolfgang Becker’s “Good bye, Lenin!” is
replete with this sort of nostalgia from the very beginning, when a
fuzzy, low-budget home movie of children playing and giggling is
shown over the tinkling of sentimental piano music that is in every
other bittersweet movie.
Yes, it is a bit heavy-handed, but it’s necessary to
understand the protagonist’s growing nostalgia for the very
government that, in the beginning, he protests against. Alex
(Daniel Bruhl) is one of many young people demanding the
reunification of East and West Germany. When his devout socialist
mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), watches the police arrest him,
however, she suffers a heart attack.
She wakes up eight months later, unaware of the collapse of the
Berlin Wall and of the Westernization of not only her country, but
also her children.
Afraid his mother won’t survive the shock of hearing of
the death of her beloved nation, Alex begins a scheme to keep his
mother blissfully ignorant of the collapse of Communism. He plays
old taped newscasts for her on the TV, bribing her old students to
come over and sing Communist songs and fabricating stories
explaining the appearance of Coca-Cola logos and the infiltration
of Westerners into their apartment building.
“Good bye, Lenin!” works best when it lets the
images of tacky Western culture speak for themselves —
obtrusive red Coca-Cola trucks disrupting a shot of an old
monument, rows of newly installed satellite dishes shining in the
sun, Alex’s sister, Ariane, in her garish uniform smiling at
the camera and saying “Welcome to Burger King!”
The death of the East is most eloquently expressed, though, with
a gigantic statue of Lenin, seemingly gesturing to a bewildered
Christiane, trailing from a helicopter in the sky.
After a while, the film loses its comedic momentum. Alex’s
plans and lies get more convoluted and fantastical, and his antics,
at first charming, become increasingly pathetic and tiresome.
As Alex attempts to construct some type of utopian socialist
world for his mother, he develops an attachment to the old,
Communist way. Perhaps he immediately identifies East Germany with
his mother, whom he sees slipping away, or perhaps he yearns for
the years of optimism and hope that characterizes his
mother’s socialist outlook.
This gives some insight into the ridiculous lengths he goes to
in order to keep his mother in the dark. He does it not only for
her, but for himself. And though Becker takes Alex’s devotion
a little too far to merit a suspension of belief, he at least
provides the audience a glimpse of understanding.
Though the film gets rather pedantic in its utopian principals
and maudlin in its portrayal of the suffering, saintly mother,
“Good bye, Lenin!” still provides some laughs and
entertainment and boasts a likeable cast of characters, which helps
audiences to forgive its cumbersome length and improbable
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars