Good Bye, Lenin!

What a poignant movie which truly demonstrates the love of a son towards his dying mother !

This is simply an amazing movie taken during the period of world history when the East German Democratic Republic was crumbling in 1989. It is always fascinating to see how the world revolved around Communism behind the Iron Curtain, with East Germany being a perfect example of a Communist State which could not keep up with the times even after the Soviet Union relaxed its controls of the Communist Countries under the Warsaw Pact.

It is a strange world. People accepted the dominance of the Socialist Party. People accepted mediocrity. People became subservient, almost behaved like slaves. People had to toe the line, or else ?

“Good Bye, Lenin!” is a great movie, not just because it depicted the life of average citizens in East Germany in a truthful manner, but more because it was a true demonstration of how a son tries to defend his mother from a potential huge shock to such an extent one could not believe. He takes care of her in every minute way, even to the extent of re-labelling old pickle and jam bottles to prove to his mother that nothing much has changed during her eight months of coma. It will bring tears to anyone’s eyes when Alex (the son) rummages through dust bins to look for empty bottles, and then sterilizes them before re-filling. Even when Alex has a girlfriend close by, his love for his mother’s survival takes precedence, and his girlfriend cooperates in whichever way possible. Alex’s sister Ariane has serious doubts about the elaborate charade that Alex was orchestrating to keep her mother rooted in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) side of Germany which was indeed progressing towards unification.

We are here talking about a fast-changing world in 1989 – 1990, and also the biggest event of the 20th Century (bringing down the Berlin Wall). So, Alex’s efforts come through as extraordinary.

The rather strange original world of the GDR that is being recreated by Alex for his mother in order to hold her attention to the pre-1989 situation does not, however, explain why his mother was so much in love with the ideology of GDR and Socialism. While, in principle, Socialism as articulated in East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s was a commendable philosophy, unfortunately it came bundled with Party and Government excesses. I can understand if you are compelled to admire an ideology out of sheer fear, but I am unable to understand how 17 million people (or most of them) were “voluntarily pushed” into admiring a dictatorial regime, with Alex’s mother being one of them.

Sometimes during the movie, I got a feeling that Alex’s mother was hiding something, and it was true as she reveals secrets about her husband to her unwitting children, who had written off their father for good. Towards the end of the movie, it was clear that Alex’s mother simply was accepting the news from the phony TV broadcast on West German refugees flooding East Germany, though apparently she knew that the reverse was true. I could see that in her face, she looks lovingly and smilingly at her son who is enjoying the untrue broadcast which was shot by him along with his partner friend.

Overall, I would give very high ratings for this movie – in direction, in acting, in portrayal of emotions (though Germans are hard to read sometimes), in the flow of events, in photography, et al. I am surprised that it did not get an OSCAR for the best foreign film.


Vijay Srinivasan

11th October 2015


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