I’ve been meaning to watch Good Bye Lenin! for some time. Finally, I got the chance to see the film the other day. It is a funny and at the same time very moving film that is certainly worth all the wait. Good Bye Lenin! is about a son living in East Germany around the time the Berlin Wall fell down and her mother who falls into a coma only to wake up after the dissolution of the old socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its reunification with West Germany.
Waking up after eight months, the doctor informs the son that her mother must avoid any traumatic experience that could lead to another heart attack and her death. The son takes his mother home. Knowing her strong socialist convictions, he pretends that nothing has changed.
The son stages a fiction: refits the apartment, rummages for old products, wears old clothes, shows video-recorded news, and etc. to recapture the atmosphere of the old socialist era for his bedridden mother. The tension rises every time the mother got suspicious of some discrepancy in the son’s make-believe GDR.
But what we have here is not merely nostalgia for life under socialism – life without the devils of capitalist restoration. The son’s elaborate overturning of reality, the Slovenian cultural critic Slavoj Žižek writes, “became an alternate GDR, reinvented as it should have been.” Žižek comments on my favorite scene in the film:
[O]ne (for the time being, at least) cannot imagine publicly practicing a Nazi nostalgia: “Good Bye Hitler” instead of “Good Bye Lenin.” Doesn’t this bear witness to the fact that we are still aware of the emancipatory potential in Communism, which, distorted and thwarted as it was, was thoroughly missing in Fascism? The quasi-metaphysical epiphany toward the film’s end (when the mother, on her first walk outside the apartment, finds herself face-to-face with a Lenin-statue carried by the helicopter, whose outstretched hand seems to address her directly) is thus to be taken more seriously than it may appear. ■