“Truth was rather a dubious concept.”
Goodbye Lenin is set in East Germany, in 1989. It’s a period of considerable social unrest. The film’s plot is concerned with a single mother, Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) whose physician husband suddenly defected to the West years before. As the wife of a defector, Christiane initially faced a great deal of suspicion from the authorities. In the ensuing years, she raised her two children, Alex (Daniel Bruhl) and Ariane, alone, and she’s carved out a life for herself with the hand she’s been dealt. Christiane is a tireless idealist who now receives recognition from the authorities for her contributions to the Communist party and to the state. One night, Alex is arrested during a demonstration, and Christiane collapses and falls into a coma at the shock.
In the 8 months Christiane spends in a coma, East Germany undergoes permanent, irrevocable changes. People who’d built their whole lives around a political ideal lived to see it crashing down (literally) with the destruction of the Berlin Wall. East Germans rapidly embrace the changes–everything from clothing, diet, and furniture. Everyday life changes with phenomenal speed, and this all takes place while Christiane slumbers on.
Then one day, Christiane wakes up. And this presents Alex with a dilemma. He believes that his mother would suffer a relapse if she discovers the truth about the destruction of East Germany. Christiane’s friends, family and neighbours conspire to create the illusion that nothing has changed. Alex is aided and abetted in the deception by Denis, a would-be filmmaker. Denis and Alex’s efforts are hilarious, but there’s a serious side to all of this. The film includes footage of the wall collapsing, and the film really does a remarkable and amazing job showing how life rapidly changed for East Germans who were desperate to absorb Western culture. There are some scenes that are unforgettable. But apart from this, the film also is a moving story of the devotion between Alex and his mother.
Goodbye Lenin is a German film with subtitles. The DVD includes the director’s (Wolfgang Becker) commentary in subtitles. The commentary about the film is concerned mainly with the technical difficulties encountered, and it’s well worth watching.