Good Bye, Lenin! (2003): Summary & Review of the Movie

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003): Summary & Review of the Movie

Love stops time. Good Bye Lenin is a rhyme about life, love and revolution. A nursery rhyme that evokes the difficulty of detaching oneself from a love, that hurts us, but that we must leave. A rhyme from another time, or another summer for Yann Tiersen.

Berlin. October 1989. The wall is falling. The world has been immersed in socialism in East Berlin since 1949. We meet Alexandre (Daniel Brühl) who, as a child, dreamed of becoming a cosmonaut. His father fled to the West and abandoned him, his sister and his mother. His mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), who became a model of socialism. She marries her homeland because she is not loved by her husband. She embodies the voice of the people and the mother country. She helps her classmates and writes complaints. If a button is missing from your shirt or your coffee in the morning is not hot enough, Christiane will be on the spur of the moment and will help you get justice.

Except that in 1989, Alexandre did not finally become an astronaut. Shirt buttons are still scarce and paper diapers are starting to scratch. Even the socialist government is getting tired of it. In 1989, the revolution was underway. On 7 October, a demonstration was organised for freedom of movement and expression. Alexandre participates in it. At the same time, Christiane went to the GDR's 40th anniversary. When suddenly, this mother sees her son taken away by the police because he is defending his rights. Among all her claims and despite the exemplary manner in which she defended her country, her son was not spared. She had a heart attack and fell into a coma.

While she was sleeping, socialism left the city. The walls of the apartments are redone, the furniture is changed, the cupboards are filled with more modern clothes. Even pickles are imported from the Netherlands. The sun is warmer than it used to be. Wolfgang Becker goes back in time and shows us the story. He shows us how many Berliners fled to the West, leaving apartments abandoned. It is in one of his apartments that Alex settles down with the nurse he met at his mother's bedside. Lara (Chulpan Khamatova). She's Russian. A coincidence? Rather a subtle reminder shot from Becker to remind us that Mom is never far away. The wall has fallen but the passages of socialism remain. A time when pickles did not come from the Netherlands but were still delicious. A time when Ariane, Alexandre's sister, had not left school to become a waitress at Burger King. A time when Christiane was still there.

So what should we do when she wakes up eight months later and the doctors say not to inflict any shock on her? Alex decides to go back in time too. The wall never fell. East Berlin has never disappeared. He recreates the reality in which his mother had a place of honour. For in this new world, her claims are of no use and she becomes again a woman whom her husband has abandoned, her and her two children. In this new world, his mother no longer has any role to play. In this new world, the wall has fallen, taking his mother with him in his fall. And Alex knows that. By saying goodbye to the GDR, he says goodbye to his mother. And he refuses. He keeps his motherland alive. He's lying, but to keep Mommy. And who knows, a lie, repeated many times, may give birth to a truth. With the help of his new friend Denis, he recorded television news on cassettes identical to those broadcast before the fall of the wall. Every evening, they show her mother the "news" from East Germany. News, from day to day more and more absurd. So absurd that you end up thinking that Christiane is gullible. One day, Coca-Cola is a socialist invention whose patent was allegedly stolen by Westerners, the next day refugees from the West seek protection in the East. If the world moves outside, inside you start to go crazy. Reunited Germany became world football champions in 1990. Ariane is pregnant and will give birth to one of the first babies of reunification. The story is being played out here and now. But Alexandre remains stuck between two realities. So when his mother finally admits to them that their father never ran away, we understand. Christiane and her husband had, together, prepared their escape. She was to join him a few days later. Which she never did. Devotion to socialism was ultimately only an excuse to justify his cowardice.

If the film goes on long, we thank the director Wolfgang Becker, at least for two things. The first is to have revealed Daniel Brühl's talent to the general public and the second is to have transcribed, so precisely, one of the most beautiful pages in history. For transcribing it through a son's love for his mother. While the difficulty with which a mother cuts the cord is almost always mentioned, there is little mention of the child's feelings. We think he wants to leave the nest and regain his freedom. But leaving mom is not easy. Even when it raised us up the hard way, imposing a single chain on us or telling us in which God we should believe.

The fall of the wall had that effect. A rebirth for some, a heart-wrenching for others. Some said goodbye with open pleasure, but others had more difficulty and may never have succeeded.

Laura Darmon


Passionate about literature, Laura regularly contributes to Berlin Poche. After graduating in law, she has been working in a publishing house as a legal transferee.

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