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A critical analysis of Goodbye Lenin!

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2783 words Published: 9th Mar 2017

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The Relationship between History and Memory:

The post-war period ends in Germany in 1989 by demolishing of the Berlin wall. The unification process brought a lot of problems in all sections of the society. It has also brought problems to Germany’s future role as economic and political powers and directs the attention again to the challenging bequests of the past and tries to change the meanings of the national culture as a united Europe to sharp and clear the economic, social and ethnical differences. After 17 year of CDU rule, in 1998, the new SPD was led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and it made its way into recruit social and economic reforms to make the country more flexible on immigration, employment problems and more competitive in the global market. However, this move made a lot of concerns about the pulling down of the social welfare state, the crosion of a German Leitkultur and the problems in the New States as there were still racial violence and employment issues. When the government moved into Berlin, the structures of Reichstag and Potsdamer Platz, made the public think about the changes in the nation and identity. All of these events had an impact on the German cinema but they were less traceable in the few feature films that had a direct theme about the unification than in the unpredicted revival of popular cinema, based on a critical examination by some film scholars (Rentschler 2000). Film-makers returned to the post-war period genre to address special unification problems as a method of retrieving the stabilising purpose of classical narrative and of applying these effects. This process found an expression in the new generation’s disagreement to film movement with the social and political including New German Cinema. The young film-makers from producers to directors did not accept its philosophy of the authorship and individualism for a more practical, cooperation and between creative and marketable interests. Considering entertainment as a primary essential in cinema and films, they organized themselves with international trends in film-financing and marketing that had made the 1990s an bland decade for films, conquered by the blockbuster films. However, replying to some domestic worries, film-makers registered the consistent effects of genre in the modifying of the German past and the remapping of the German present inside the cultural and geopolitical of post-wall Europe, and trying to approach themselves openly to German audiences, the films of the 1990s required to house the audience’s conflicting desire of both creating the narratives of the Germannerss less complex and give more room for optimistic images of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural culture. It is also considered that the wider the effect of continuing reconsideration for modern filmic performs and the writing of film history. Film scholars have started to check the main serious models and give extra care to the connections between German popular cinema and its purpose.

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In Goodbye Lenin! (Dir.: Wolfgang Becker, 2003), it reveals the change of viewpoint on the sense of East-West unity in post-wall Germany. Becker approaches to unification in his film Goodbye Lenin! By exanimating the images of separation and connection that he created. He also approaches unification between the East and the West as something unwelcome. The conception of merging two parts together becomes the idea of one part is overwhelming the other and the other is fighting this engagement. The resistance rest on viewing the German Democratic Republic which is known as East Germany as a unified individual part. As the rest of the film focus on keeping the impression of GDR unity in the unification’s strength to erase that impression. The beginning scenes of Alex’s childhood express the separation of Germany in this film as a represented by the family. It seems to allow for more pleasant relationships for Alex’s disappointment to his father who travels to the west and Alex’s mother and sister remains in the East. The separation is not about the division of the two parts but rather about the discharge of disruptive elements from the controlled unity of the GDR. The separation leads to more tightly enforced impression of the unity as a clue in the mother’s efforts to express any need for going back with the father. However, instead of trying to bring the father back to her world, she creates a new world where the father has no role in it. She merges the family without him in her alleged fight to assistance the GDR achieve its socialistic values. Therefore there is no desire to overcome the separation between the East and the West. The film represents the unity of the GDR through many home movies and flashbacks to Alex’s childhood which makes the family overcomes the difficulty of the fact that the father left the home and the mother’s breakdown to develop as loyal supporters of the GDR socialism. Later on, Alex joins in protests for freedom to travel out the GDR. At this moment, the mother sees Alex in the protest and she faint because of her son’s challenge for his dream, she represents diverts him from his hard work to rebel. Christiane goes into an eight months coma.

As Christiane wakes from her coma, Alex fears that if she knew about the GDR after the fall of Berlin wall, the shock will give her another heart attack after the first heart attack in 1989 and it will result in her death as her doctor advised Alex. As he is faced with the loss of both of his mother and the state with which she recognized, the memory of his childhood and the vanishing GDR starts to take on parallel potentials to his imaginations of space. The historical distance of his East German childhood, offers Alex a wish of a resting place away from experience of time that would separate him quickly from his mother and his past. All of these losses to Alex share a desire for a division, a slow flow of time. As Svetlana Boym says of nostalgia: “At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for a place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time- the time of our childhood, the slower rhythm of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress.” [1]

The film represents the adult’s relationship to the memory of childhood through Alex’s attempts to retain a link to his personal past with all of these changes that happens in his world that surround him, hoping that he can extend his mother’s life. Alex hides the breakdown of the East German state by recreating his mother’s bedroom with the outmoded GDR furnishings that he and his older sister threw after the breakdown. Alex also create the childhood “heaven” that he never had before and his dream of that perfect place battle both of communism and capitalism’s large-scale difficulties of endless progress, Alex turns his perfect place desire hidden, looking for asylum in the expectedness of everyday life and in the national spaces of personal childhood. Andreas Huyssen proposes that this “memory boom… is a potentially healthy sign of contestation” in our fast-paced world, “recover[ing] a mode of contemplation outside the universe of simulation and fast-speed information and cable networks” as well as stating “the basic human need to live in extended structures of temporality.”[2] However, Alex’s preservation act carries a positive potential in the context of the unification and the resulting disagreements of both the social and political structures of East German. He risks delaying a method of observation that would result to his mother’s death, covering himself instead in the comfort of a timeless present. Christiane’s bedroom becomes a shelter, where the desperate hurry to unification and the similarly swift closure of the GDR have slowed down. In reconstructing the physical environment linked with his childhood, Alex offers himself a historical space to renegotiate his connection to his past in the way of the incoming loss. As modern institutions to everyday life in the GDR favour to concentrate on house entities rather than the political leftovers, Alex’s plan steps out of the current of historical disorder and harsh change, lasting in the slower pulses of his private life. The level of protection about the objects that relates to his mother’s extended survival, Alex’s museum space offers him time to imitate on the chance of his mother’s death, by the help of artefacts that created a memory aid link to the disappearing GDR. In a argument on the changing meanings of museums in the modern culture, Andreas Huyssen proposes that modern museums support us “to negotiate and to articulate a relationship to the past that is always also a relationship to the transitory and to death, our own included;” we may therefore see the museum as “a life-enhancing rather than mummifying institution in an age bent on the destructive denial of death…”. [3]Alex’s museum space offers him the chance to get to the loss on his own agenda, to show sorrow if his mother died without a limit, surrounded by entities that reminds him of the childhood in an atmosphere of quiet echo. Regardless of the positive Alex’s protection of culture entities to protect against the comprehensive removal of the East and to heal his approval of his personal loss, the trick is triggered in his rebuilding that will eventually prevents from a positive relationship to the past, present, or future. To defend his mother from the shock he worries that he will kill her, Alex must retain the impression that the radical changes of the Wende did not happen. Rather than easily simplifying things his mother, and himself, into the present, Alex works progressively to duplicate a frame in the past, pouring Western foods into East German jars and bottles collected from the trash, filming fake East German news and even forcing friends and guests to wear old East German clothes. Unlike a museum, where the physical and historical distance between viewer and entity inspires a serious echo, Alex’s complete rebuilding a time-sphere to put his mother in the impression of a timeless present, where artefacts of the past may not show any symbols of age. Boym distinguishes between two types of nostalgia: restorative nostalgia, which search for to reconstruct the missing home and reflective nostalgia, which lingers lovingly on ruins. As Boym express that,

“Restoration signifies a return to the original stasis, to the prelapsarian moment. The past for the restorative nostalgic is a value for the present; the past is not a duration but a perfect snapshot. Moreover, the past is not supposed to reveal any signs of decay; it has to be freshly painted in its “original image” and remain eternally young. Reflective nostalgia is more concerned with historical and individual time, with the irrevocability of the past and human finitude. Reflection suggests new flexibility, not the reestablishment of stasis. The focus here is not on recovery of what is perceived to be an absolute truth but on the meditation on history and the passage of time”.[4]

Both the ordinary route of time and the historical disorders of 1989-1990 have distorted Alex’s childhood desire to travel and the physical distance to outer space into a desire for the historical distance of his East German childhood, by exaggeratedly breaking up the historical distance of his East German childhood. However, he fights his thinking on the route of time, and as a result, he fails to arise to a conclusion of loss. Though his mother’s bedroom protects him from the leap of life in the real world, Alex dodges fronting the option of death by constructing a zone where time is reach a stationary point. Also, since he cannot settle the joy of unification and trying to protect of the past at the same time, Alex’s inner and external worlds develop ever more separation. Throughout the film, the West German football team’s victory in the 1990 World Cup aids as an icon of internal unity in Germany, motivating the approaches of unity and shared celebration.

Good Bye, Lenin! Ends with the collocation of the depressing, broken-down streets of the GDR and the bright colours of the Super-8 films that had represented happy moments in Alex’s childhood in the beginning of the film. Once the Berlin Wall falls, Alex’s desire for the slower pace of life was paid by the distance of space as well as his East German childhood is an answer to his requirement to sorrow the loss of his mother in a historical time-space isolated from that which so quickly and unsentimentally thrown out the GDR. Though he briefly falls as a victim to a returning nostalgia that would prevent him from carrying on into the future, Alex on the other hand reveals how the protection of East German popular and culture’s entities in unified Germany can aid the GDR citizens to keep a connection to the his past, simplifying the echo on the route of time and recognising the loss that relates to the unstable cultural significance of East German entities. Alex in the end sends his mother’s ashes into the air on a firecracker that had the same identity and was almost a replica to the tiny rocket of his childhood. As he is looking up at the fireworks in the sky, he imagines that his mother is looking down on them from space. The meaning of his relationship to space has now upturned from the diversion of his childhood to accept the death fact in adulthood. For Alex, GDR childhood breaks and fails as being a “haven” to him, where he can delay sadness forever, and he develops a collection of cultural markers and personal memories that open up a dialogue between the real and imagined spaces of past, present, and future. Alex’s desire for a different knowledge of time eventually will accomplishes its positive prospective to recuperate a missing connection to the slower rhythms of East German childhood, standing in front of fast and confusing historical disorder.

In Pierre Nora article ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memorie’, he claimed that many section of memory exists because people do not have impulsively arising memory, instead, the people depend on history to fill in the gaps of their memory. He also claims that the leftovers of an experience have been “ ‘moved under the heaviness of a essentially historical sensibility’ with haunting images of the “push and pull” result of historical moments that are being separated from the movement of history and then re-joint, ‘like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded.” [5]Nora proposes that the existing desire for archives files aids his philosophy in that nations are trying to record everything based on the philosophy “record as much as you can, something will remain.” Nora appears to understand the government’s history storing because the culture’s quantity has crushed the real memory.


Anton, Christine, Pilipp Frank, Beyond Political Correctness. Remapping German Sensibilities in the 21st Century (Germany: Rodopi, 2010), pp: 218-220

Clarke, David, German Cinema since Unification (London: Continuum, 2006), pp:

Hake, Sabine, German National Cinema (London: Routledge, 2001), 179-180

Nora, Pierre, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’ in Representations, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory, (spring, 1989), pp. 7-24.

[1] Clarke, David, German Cinema since Unification (London: Continuum, 2006), pp: 26

[2] Clarke, David, German Cinema since Unification (London: Continuum, 2006), pp: 27

[3] Clarke, David, German Cinema since Unification (London: Continuum, 2006), pp: 27

[4] Clarke, David, German Cinema since Unification (London: Continuum, 2006), pp: 32

[5] Nora, Pierre, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’ in Representations, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory, (spring, 1989), pp. 7-12.


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