Does the movie paint a positive or negative picture of life in communist East Germany?
East Germany, its demise relayed through the mass media of recent history, has in popular consciousness been posited as negative, a corrupt bulwark of the last dying days of Communism in Eastern Europe, barren and silent. The other Germany to its West, it’s citizens free, was striding confidently ahead into the millennium. Recent cinema has sought to examine re-unification, the Wolfgang Becker film «Goodbye Lenin!» (2003), a recent example of such an investigation into the past through cinema. In this essay I will look at the film and the narrative techniques it uses, probing whether it portrays the East German nation as positive or negative, concluding that though many negatives are identified, some positives are deduced from Huneker’s state. I will also consider why, in recent times, East Germans have come to regard their former state with nostalgia.
Not a doom laden, emphatically political treatise on the reunification of East and West Germany but a touching and sometimes comedic insight into the gargantuan changes impacting on the small scale; day to day life as experienced by an East German family, Christiane Kerner and her two children Alex and Ariane. Awaking from a coma, Alex fears his mother’s condition may worsen if she learns of re-unification, going to increasingly elaborate lengths in maintaining the illusion of the GDR's omniscience. Becker’s stance as to reunification is ambivalent throughout, the film's concerns not didactic but subtly relayed. How the personal and political interweave is skillfully constructed by Becker, assessing the extent to which the society we live within affects us, how far its changing social landscape impacts our private one? Goodbye Lenin! (2003) appropriates the individual as bound to his environment, threaded, through strong cultural codes, to his neighbor. Regardless of the system, communist or capitalist, and though our goals may deviate, we are all pursuing happiness and comfort, the tools used to attain this products of that society. That said, it is immediately legible whereabouts Becker wishes us to view the East German state as wholly negative, and he does this through several key scenes.
At the film's opening, we learn of the first East German shot into space, surely an apotheosis of what a state can achieve, its grasp extending to the stars. But behind the curtain of this vast achievement we can see how it is brought about through the utter bending of citizens to the states will. Alex's mother Christiane, who we first assume the innocent of the piece, is interrogated by the Stasi for her husband has fled the country. We learn he was unable to live with a state he detested, the ordeal of the interrogation so testing for Christiane it sends her into a coma. Her husband and the children’s father absent, she finds a kinship with the state, now one of its most vociferous supporters. The absence of the father is particularly imbued with purpose. Later, Becker seeks to equate the death of communism with the return of the father for the two are so inextricably connected. Only when the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is laid to rest can this dark chapter in which fathers left itself too end, back now from the West to make amends and seek forgiveness.
The contrast between what the state would like its citizens, and the wider world, to believe through image and rhetoric, and the actual reality inside the East German state, is made stark. For example, as the celebration of the feats made by the GDR is celebrated outside his window and broadcast on television, Honecker and Gorbachev in attendance, Alex sits inside his bedroom, a red flag adorning his window, its shadow protruding his bedroom wall. Alex is unconcerned, not aware even of the procession occurring outside his home, no regard for its rhetoric for it bears no...