Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
"Die DDR lebt weiter -- auf 79 qm! "In 1990, to protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma; a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.
The charming social construction of history
I found this movie to be a charming film and very engaging on both a
personal and a social level. The story is drawn from the lives of an
East Berlin family struggling to cope with the changing world as their
way of life is challenged. The father, having reportedly left the
family for the West years before, is not present and the mother
replaces her spousal needs with the love of her country and its way of
The premise of the film centers on the frail mother, who falls into a
coma mere weeks before the fall of the Berlin wall. Eight months later,
she regains consciousness, and her children are told not to excite her,
lest she have another episode.
Bound by their love of their mother, the son and daughter seek to
shield her from the changes in her culture. In their apartment, they
recreate the conditions of the world she remembers, right down to the
labels on the food they serve her. As the mother comes into contact
with the inevitable disparities between her new world and the one she
remembers, the son compounds the deception, eventually creating false
newscasts to explain the phenomena she witnesses in a manner more
consistent with her core assumptions of life.
The film is touching, tender, funny and dramatic. However, the elements
that really drew me in were the historical construction and the plot
device of deception.
The historical construction was the way in which the son, through his
efforts to explain the increasingly Westernized elements of German
society his mother observes, recreates East Germany as the country he
could have faith in. As he recreates history to incorporate current
events, he softens the harshness of the party rhetoric, reforming the
socialistic ideal closer to the compassion for the masses and the
acceptance of the 'enemy' capitalists. The film makes ample use of
actual news footage in his narrative, footage that adds sharp contrast
to Alex's version.
This contrast is a striking reminder about how much of our social
conscience is constructed through the lenses we choose to observe
reality and recall history. Alex had quickly come to give up his
socialist devotion (though the film does make it clear form the
beginning that the adult Alex was already disenchanted with it). But as
Alex fabricates news reports and artifacts for the illusion he's
providing his mother, he actually appears to be inventing a system of
socialism that he can feel proud of. It's almost as if in trying to
console his mother, he connects to her by reinterpreting her world into
something he can interface with, building common ground.
How much of our own social history is constructed in this manner? We
champion our own system of free market democracy as the 'city on the
hill' for other nations. We raise up the virtues of our freedom and
individuality (and there are indisputably many virtues), while ignoring
some of the more sorted historical results it has yielded. We choose
which portions of our history we celebrate, and which portions we
condemn to academic obscurity.
Americans use history to construct our national mythology. Like Homer
and Virgil before us, we compose idealized stories of virtue and create
narratives that resound with the language of legendary epics. And
because of this mythology building exercise, we often fail to see our
own cultural reality for the flawed imperfect collection of group
effort that it is. That's why we feel so betrayed when our leaders make
simple human mistakes or we see representatives of our culture
participating in a manner that runs counter to our values.
No where is this phenomenon so pronounced as when it comes to our
national leaders. We look back on our founding fathers and through our
myth building, elevate them to superhuman stature. Our high school
students may not remember what wars Washington fought in or what
political initiatives he took but they remember that he cut down a
(fictional) cherry tree and refused to lie about it.
We remember the elegant words that our predecessors crafted without
remembering the pain and suffering their efforts exacted from other
people. We remember that Thomas Jefferson advocated 'Equal and exact
justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or
political …' while conveniently forgetting that he was ambivalent at
best to the degree that freedom extended to those in a state of
slavery. We forget that founding father quarreled, that at times they
misrepresented each other's interest to foreign leaders and that on
occasion may have even tried to kill one another.
The founding fathers we remembered were well educated, civil and wise.
Against this tapestry of myth we watch contemporary politics play out,
trying desperately to spin events into frameworks that reinforce our
desires for justice and virtue.
We are all Alex, trying to reconstruct a new view of history that makes
us more proud of where we come from. We invent and reinvent history to
suit our needs and like Alex, do so in the name of providing a safe
environment (or better way of life) for others.