Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Elaboration on the theatrical aspect and analysis of a feature film: Goodbye, Lenin.

Goodbye, Lenin is a film with an extra, theatrical dimension that becomes apparent as the scenario unfolds. What happens to the characters of the film is a theatrical convention: they live in their own reality, time and place and they stick to it, until they realize it was nothing more than an immense lie. Even worse, they don’t wish to come to terms with the truth, human nature being so fragile that it would collapse in a minute’s glimpse of the real world.

It’s a meticulously crafted play of reality and illusion. The film seeks balance between two axes: the two fundamental lies which bring about the absurd situation that the heroes have to go through. Initially, the son’s lies about the perpetuation of the political situation are caused by, as well as satisfying, his mother’s need for a sense of security – her sanity, her life. Due to her frail health, doctors cannot predict whether she will be able to get over the powerful shock historic changes in her country could bring. Later on, the mother’s lie –that her husband has abandoned their family-- surfaces but it’s of no consequence any more: her hidden letters are nothing but meaningless old papers. Those two lies lead to a life-time play. Children are being deprived of their father, on their own mother’s decision. And she is being deprived of reality, on her children’s decision. Each one transforms life for the others, thus an immolator and at the same time a victim of his choices. The two lies get perfectly balanced in the end. The two levels of the film, the social and the family one, blend and become unique; her husband is absent because of the communist establishment while the mother has decided in favor, and because of, this regime not to try to go after him. Then she suffers a brain stroke because of the social tumult, being totally unable to accept the change when she wakes up. An imaginary Eden is the society in front of her, the last image of this world before she leaves it, in ash shape, flying on a children’s rocket. Her own kin chose for her life, not truth.

Life takes the place of truth. Numerous replacements are presented in the film. In theatre, actors are usually playing every other night, two actors performing the same role like two different sides of a coin. In life this occurs as substitution. The father substitutes his entire family, lead by a closet full of unread letters. He finds a new wife and kids, a family and a life that takes the place of the old one. Everything remains consistent, the play is the same - just the actors are different. Moreover, the daughter finds a foster father for her kid as the natural one hasn’t got all the desired qualities (and these qualities do matter). A somewhat ruthless move when lives are being concerned, as if people as individuals do not have any specific worth, unless they play their part right.

All aspects of daily life are changing, for the heroes; stability does not have any place in their lives. Theatrical contingencies are occurring everywhere. Even words cannot get away with it and “cosmonaut” is abolished for “astronaut”. The new generation, the second son, faces the world from a new perspective and chooses to identify it differently. Moreover, the first cosmonaut to go to space from their communist country wears on the impoverished role of a taxi-driver and later (for news coverage needs) the role of the minister of the socialist republic. Loose theatrical structures having been instated, everything turns upside-down.

The film entertains us with real-life performances, as well. Plays of life and death as, besides the minor show of the abandoned wife in front of the inspectors of the regime, we find her staging plays with her pupils, then being the audience while her people are giving a show for her birthday as she is lying sick and unable to attend the real show of life. Even costumes come at play, old songs and forgotten situations. All around her is part of a glamorous show. Her television is another wonderland, presenting all she would like to acknowledge as the truth, the imaginary world her son and his friend are deceiving her with.

Disguise, playful shift of identity is also a considerable element of the film. Mother’s room changes in style, curtains and old-fashioned carpets enter the scene of the drama. Eventually, super market products have different brand names, coffee packets and biscuits wear their masks for the show. Then the nurse is not just a nurse anymore, but the son’s girlfriend, even if his mother subsequently finds out about it. Secrecy is a major disposition, for apt or assumed reasons. Sometimes just for the sake of it...

Things in the film have a twin role: they are of distinct use, but they symbolize something totally different. The kitchen’s cupboard changes out of the blue into a cenotaph in father’s remembrance. Dozens of sealed letters will finally give out the secret that mother was keeping inside her, all her life. The old wardrobe saved by miracle from the secondhand dealer, becomes a chest full of golden coins. But just for a few moments, since society is changing along with its conventions: with the currency replacement a life’s savings turn into useless paper, confetti that whirls in the air.

Goodbye, Lenin. Even the title is theatrical. An awesome goodbye, when an object, Lenin’s statue salutes, with a dramatic move, the masses, turning himself into a symbol of the communist regime in its entirety. Of the communist regime that has fallen and capitalism in the form of a helicopter is lifting it with ropes to the skies, on the road to obscurity (somewhere here communism parallels the paternal figure; both of them are leaving for good). This is the sequence that makes us wonder: is it possible that mother is also playing her own part? The statue that is being removed, the posters, the changes in the world out of her room make her bear some suspicion. The nurse is enlightening her, without her son’s consent, at least on half the truth regarding the Wall. The celebrations find her a bit iffy of the strange and fictional explanation her son gives once again. Does she understand the truth finally, but doesn’t admit it and goes on till the end or did her son truly manage to offer her the ultimate dream, the triumph of her beloved communist regime? The question is pending…

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