Saturday, August 16, 2008

On "Socialist" Lies- Good Bye, Lenin!


Good Bye, Lenin!, Directed by Wolfgang Becker, Sony, 2004

Some things are painful in life. As a life-long anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist militant the demise of the Democratic Republic of Germany and its theory of “socialism in half a country” and later, on its heels, the demise of the Soviet Union and its theory of “socialism in one country” were nevertheless social disasters of historic proportions for me. One result is that we live in the age of the one superpower world dominated by the United States and its genuine capacity for making trouble, militarily unchecked by any other power. Friends there is nothing good about that. Witness Iraq and many other hot spots in the world.

But enough of that because, despite my obvious different political take on what happened in East Germany in late 1989 and early 1990, this film Good Bye, Lenin is a very interesting view on what happened to one fictionalized family of mixed political and social sensibilities during that period. The film has been advertised as a comedy, and although there are some funny moments like the various attempts by some of the characters, including the main character son Alex, to create alternate social universes, there is more than a hint of satire (and sometimes localized ‘insider’ satire) here. And satire is a very precious commodity in an age where everything is taken literally, whether it should be or not. Thus, a good prescription is -fight hard for your politics but take a minute to see humor in the sometimes absurd ways of this wicked old world.

The device used to create the central plot in this film has a long pedigree, although I believe that it might be the first time that it has been used in an attempt to preserve 'socialist' reality. Quickly outlined, a son (the previously mentioned Alex) attempts, almost manically at times, to create “socialism in one bedroom” for his ailing mother who upon awaking in 1990 after eight months from a coma induced by a heart attack after witnessing him being beaten by the Statsi needs to, on doctor’s advise, avoid any ‘excitement’ on pains of relapse (and possible death). The dramatic tension revolves around an ever-widening and bizarre conspiracy (including drawing in his skeptical Russian girlfriend, his sister, her boyfriend, the neighbors, former colleagues, etc.) to keep mom in the dark about everything that has gone on during that time.

A subplot, however, reveals that Mom, in need of illusions as she might be, has secrets of her own in relationship to the whereabouts of her husband who left for West Germany in the past without his family, mainly because she balked at going for her own reasons. There are, additionally, many sight gags or things that pass for sight gags in a society that had a very limited exposure to the ‘virtues’ of Western consumer society. But enough said, get this film if you want a very smart look at what happens when cultural changes come fast and furious. Not everyone can, or should, adjust accordingly. But also get it, if I may add, so that you can begin to understand why mother wanted to stick with the old socialist ways, as she understood that concept. And maybe fight for them, as well.

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