Good bye, Lenin
: Last night, I went to a late show of Good Bye, Lenin because no one else in the family but me would want to drive forty minutes to see a two-hour movie in German about East Berlin and the fall of the Wall.
It was worth the drive. Lenin is a comedy about communism: A devoted mother — who had to raise her children alone when her husband went to the West — sees her son arrested in a democracy demonstration, falls to a heart attack, and spends eight months in a coma. In the meantime, the Wall came down and her son protects her from further shock by making believe that the old DDR still reigns: finding her familiar commie brands for her and even making East German TV news to explain the Coke billboard that suddenly appears outside her window. In the process, he reinvents his nation and its socialism into what it should have been but never was.
I was lucky enough to spend time behind the Wall in the ’80s. It’s experiences like that that do remind you how lucky you are. Every time I’d come back across Checkpoint Charlie, I was grateful for the colors and tastes and life and choice of the West. That’s such a trivial measure of freedom, but it’s the scale of reference we, the free, have. These days, the news is concentrating on so many more drastic contrasts between freedom and tyranny: in Iraq before the war, in Iran, in North Korea… But sometimes, it’s not so obvious.
What’s so wonderful about Good Bye, Lenin is that it finds the subtle, humorous, even sympathetic way to illustrate that contrast: how a dictatorship can tear apart a marriage and a family and how its victims still live through it, how they cope and love and even laugh. It shows how the damage of a dictatorship can be masked by the courage of its victims. There are no raised fists here, no jackboots, no shots; there’s not even any pain apparent on the surface. But it’s there, underneath, and it becomes apparent only when freedom draws the contrast.