Sunday, March 18, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

In honor of Guillermo del Toro recently winning best Director and Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards for The Shape of Water, this week I decided to go with one of his first (and one of his best) films.

PLOT: After Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at a remote orphanage, he discovers that the school is haunted...and that's just the start of his problems.    

MEMORABLE MOMENT: A bomb that was recently dropped from an enemy aircraft sticks up in the middle of the orphanage's courtyard. Boys play around the weapon, not giving it any mind. Carlos (), is assured that the bomb has been deactivated. He playfully kicks the bomb and presses his ear to its outer shell.  Metal clangs within the mechanical guts. Something is still alive in there, waiting to explode.

  • The director has also said that the film was strongly inspired by his own personal memories of his uncle, who supposedly came back as a ghost.
  • The design of the ghost was inspired by the white-faced spirit in Japanese horror films like Ringu (Thank you Ringu. You will always live in our nightmares.)
  • Guillermo del Toro worked on this film for sixteen years. He started writing it when he was in college. (So let that inspire those of you who have novels, screenplays and symphonies hidden in your drawers.)

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?: Fans of films like The Others or The Witch should definitely check this movie out. The atmosphere is potent and seeps under your skin. While I have not yet seen The Orphanage (sorry, I know, I know) I have heard that these two movies are extremely similar. The Orphanage was even produced by del Toro and the two movies share similar plots and even images. 

I was once swapping obscure horror movie recommendations with someone at work. He said something along the lines of, "I want something totally messed up, something were even the dog dies." This wouldn't be the movie for him. 

Don't get me wrong, The Devil's Backbone has some very unsettling moments (Spoiler Alert: children do die). However, while there are several classic horror ghost scenes the true terror comes from the atmosphere and the turbulent times in which these children live (the movie is set during the Spanish Civil War). In a way the film is more melancholy than it is disturbing. It is a truly beautiful ghost story with images and characters that will stay with you long after the the dedication at the end, "To my parents."

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? The movie is available on Netflix DVD. It is also available to rent ($3.99) or buy (12.99) on Amazon.

RUNTIME: 106 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro
Antonio Trashorras 
David Muñoz 


Sunday, March 11, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

 RUNTIME: 122 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Damián Szifron

Germán Servidio
Damián Szifron

Erica Rivas
Oscar Martínez
Ricardo Darín

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?: I borrowed a copy from the Baltimore County Public Library. If your public library has a decent collection of foreign films I'm sure you can get it from there for free. Otherwise, it is available on Netflix DVD and it is available to rent ($3.99) or buy ($12.99) on Amazon.

PLOT: A dark comedy composed of six short stories. Each story explores the extremities of human behavior in suspenseful and hilarious ways.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Gun to my head, if I really had to choose just one I'd pick the first (and shortest) of the tales. A beautiful woman riding in an airplane discovers that the man sitting across the aisle from her is a music critic who once professionally and emotionally destroyed her ex-boyfriend. They soon realize that a woman sitting nearby was a teacher who was once very hard on him. It turns out everyone on the flight had at one time or another hurt or betrayed this emotionally unstable young man.

Guess who's flying the plane.   


  • Images of wild animals appear during the opening credits. When the director's name appears it is accompanied with a fox. The director (Szifron) stated that this was because his father loved foxes so much and used to watch documentaries on them.
  • In the third tale the character of Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia) identifies a bridge as being at the 60th kilometer between Cafayate and Salta. The scene really was filmed at that exact location. The spot became a tourist attraction after the movie was released. 
  •  Damián Szifrón wrote most of the tales in his bathtub. 

Anthology films are a highly effective form of filmmaking. These movies (which include works such as Pulp Fiction and Creepshow) weave together short vignettes that could theoretically be their own movies. Instead, they are reduced to ten to thirty minute segments in which all the extra fat has been trimmed away. There is minimal buildup as the audience is taken directly to the climax.

Most anthology films are connected by plot, characters or setting. There might be a frame story, or the hero of one segment might have a cameo in the next. However, Wild Tales doesn't have a frame story. The characters don't meet and the plots never overlap. The only connection is that every one of the "tales" includes a character who loses control and crosses the line between civilization and savagery.

Most of us get a great deal of pleasure from dramas and comedies about mild-mannered human beings who are pushed until they resort to their barbaric nature. Just look at popular shows like Breaking Bad or Dexter. These are works about characters who do the polar opposite of what society wants from them.

One of the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is to have active characters. Many of us don't want a heroine who slinks into a miserable marriage after she learns on her wedding day that her new husband has been cheating on her. We want a character like the sixth tale's Romina (Erica Rivas) who flings her husband's lover through a mirror.

None of the stories in Wild Tales are connected in terms of plot, but the common theme of ordinary people being pushed over the edge is so strong, each segment support the others. Nothing feels unnecessary or out of place.

I once had a film teacher who said he'd always wanted to give an assignment in which every student in the class made a short film centered around a common object. Then he would edit these films together to create one, feature length movie. Wild Tales proves that anthology films don't need common characters, events or frame stories. All they need is a theme strong enough to support a single, unforgettable masterpiece.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Ishaya Bako

Genevieve Nnaji (story)
Ishaya Bako
Emil B. Garuba

Genevieve Nnaji
Oris Erhuero

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?: Netflix Instant. I actually discovered this movie on this website: "10 African Movies to Watch on Netflix." One can theoretically buy it on Amazon but at the moment they appear to be out of stock.

PLOT: An estranged couple discusses their marriage on a road trip. During the long drive, memories and secrets are revealed, threatening the future of their relationship.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: When the audience sees the couple (Genevieve Nnaji and Oris Erhuero) together for the first time. Victoria, the wife, has recently arrived from the airport after being away for three weeks and is surprised to find her husband, Izu, still living in their house. Very little is said but the tension is almost unbearable.

 Spoilers Below
There is a scene early in the film when Izu drives home drunk. He swerves into the wrong lane and the windshield is filled with the oncoming car's headlights. In the next scene, Izu wakes Victoria at four in the morning and insists that they leave immediately for his uncle's funeral. The rest of the movie follows the couple on their road trip. Through heated conversation and flashbacks, the audience learns the secrets they have kept from one another. The film ends (sorry, I warned there were spoilers) with the two of them in a hotel room where they forgive one another. 

Then, Victoria wakes up. She is in a hospital room. Izu lies in the bed, dying from injuries he received in the car accident that took place at the beginning of the film.

Everything that took place after the car accident, the road trip, the conversations and the eventual reconciliation was all a dream.

 I'm just going to come out and say it. I've always hated movies/TV episodes that end with "It was a dream the whole time." And yes, I'm looking at you, Wizard of Oz. Even when I was a kid I didn't care for that "children's classic" because nothing matters in it. Dorothy could have been eaten by the cowardly lion or the flying monkeys or could have just stayed in Munchkin Land and she would have still woken up safe in Kansas (where Ms. Gulch still wants to put down poor Toto).

I was initially just as frustrated with The Road to Yesterday, but as I watched the film's conclusion I realized that it uses the twist to its advantage. This is a very dream-like movie, not in a surreal David Lynch-ian sort of way, but in the sense that the film moves back and forth through time. Not even the flashbacks take place in chronological order. There are moments where one has to stop and wonder if they are watching the character's past, present, or even future.

Also, one has to wonder if Victoria's vision really was only a dream. She wakes from her long sleep with her head resting beside her dying husband's body. One could interpret that Izu's spirit lingered long enough to go on this "road trip" in order to work out their conflicts before they parted. This farewell is the meat of the story. Had the film been about Victoria avoiding mortal danger the dream element would not have worked because by the end the audience would have realized she was safe in the hospital room. However, she is facing emotional rather than physical stakes. This is a conflict that can be worked out in a dream.

Even during the movie the audience was given the impression that Victoria and Izu would probably not work out in the long run. A "happily ever after" ending would ring false.  Instead, this is a story of two souls parting. It is too late for them to bid farewell in the physical world so they do it in the spiritual.

The "it was a dream the whole time" ending is (thankfully) not used as much these days as it was in the first half of the twentieth century. While I don't know if I'll ever find it a totally satisfying conclusion, The Road to Yesterday is one film that uses this ending to its advantage to make the film more unique.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

RUNNING TIME: 101 Minutes.

DIRECTOR: Gareth Evans (as Gareth Huw Evans)

WRITTEN BY: Gareth Evans (as Gareth Huw Evans)

Iko Uwais
Joe Taslim
Ray Sahetapy
Yayan Ruhian 

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? Netflix DVD. It is available on Amazon Video to rent ($3.99) or buy ($12.99).

 PLOT: A S.W.A.T. team is trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers. (That pretty much sums it up.)

MEMORABLE MOMENT: The crime lord (Ray Sahetapy) discovers that that a S.W.A.T. team has breached his building. He gets on a PA system and tells the dozens (possibly hundreds) of killers residing in the apartments that they will receive great reward if they help kill the intruders. The officers look to one another, knowing that within seconds they will be overwhelmed by a force they are not equipped to handle.

This is an unbearably tense scene, a final moment of calm before all chaos breaks loose. I would compare it to the opening moments of the prison riot sequence in Natural Born Killers and the end of the first act of Jurassic Park.

  • Every actor who played a member of the SWAT team went through a rigorous training program with KOPASKA (essentially the Indonesian equivalent of the Navy SEALs). They studied several techniques including weapons and hand signals.  
  • The original title Serbuan Maut means Death Raid in English. (Personally, I prefer this title to The Raid: Redemption, which is kind of vanilla by comparison.)
  • The movie's tagline mentions "30 floors of chaos" but the apartment building in the movie only features 14 floors, 15 if you count the ground floor.  (The poster I used above features a building with about twenty floors.)

The Raid: Redemption might be the simplest movie I have ever seen in terms of plot (including Die Hard and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The film tells the story of cops trapped in a building who need to fight their way through an army of killers to survive. And that’s pretty much it. Not much else to say.  

Most people (including myself) didn’t walk into this movie for the story. They came to it for the chaotic ballet of marital arts and the “Did they actually just do that?” stunts. However, as simple (and possibly irrelevant) as the story might be, The Raid still follows a very familiar template found in countless books, movie, graphic novels and even ancient legends. This template is often known as the Hero’s journey and was made popular by world renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell.  

These steps are often used to outline epic stories such as The Odyssey, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. However the plot of this seemingly simple movie fits in with the same pattern.  

1. ORDINARY WORLD: The Raid begins with our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), praying and exercising in his home. He kisses his pregnant wife goodbye before leaving the house. This is a very domestic scene, similar to countless moments that take place around the world every day.

In LOTR's this step would be Frodo's life in the Shire. In Star Wars it's Luke's life as a whiny farm boy on Tatooine.

2. CALL TO ADVENTURE: Rama joins the rest of his team in the back of a police truck and their Sergeant (Joe Taslim) describes their mission: eliminate crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), who owns a tenement house and allows criminals around the city to rent rooms under his protection.

In this movie the call to adventure comes from a police Sergeant. In other stories it often comes from old men with beards or god-like figures.

3 REFUSAL OF THE CALL: Most stories don't include every single step, much less in this order and The Raid isn't an exception. It nearly skips over this portion of the hero's journey.

Unlike Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins or Tony Stark, Rama doesn't refuse his "adventure." However, he does appear apprehensive in the back of the van. When an audience member first watches the film they assume he is worried about leaving his family for a potentially suicidal mission, but later in the movie we realize there's another reason for his reluctance.

 4 MEETING THE MENTOR (part 1): The Raid splits this step in two. As Rama and the rest of the team breach the building they encounter Gofar (Iang Darmawan). At the time they think of him as nothing more than an impoverished man caring for his sick wife.

5 CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: Sometimes this is a physical threshold (Luke Skywalker entering the Death Star) or a psychological one (Tony Stark deciding he has to destroy the weapons his company created).

In the case of The Raid it is both. Crossing the threshold is the "memorable moment" I described above: The S.W.A.T. team is discovered, and the crime lord calls upon his tenants to kill them. Most of the team is slaughtered. Rama and only a few other survivors are now trapped in a building surrounded by snipers. They need to fight their way out.

Tons of spoilers after this point!

4. MEETING THE MENTOR (pt 2): This is where Gofar truly becomes helpful. He hides Rama and his injured team member, Bowo (Teger Satrya) and gives advice on how to escape.

6. TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES (AKA: Balrogs, Ron/Hermione, Storm Troopers): Rama is confronted again and again by dozens of thugs armed with guns and machetes. They fight through hallways, rooms and fire escapes. It's a lot like watching someone else play a very realistic video game. He's very short on allies, save for Gofar and the injured Bowo.

7. APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE: Obviously, this is a symbolic cave. In this step Frodo is overcome by the ring. Skywalker and Co. fight their way through the Death Star.

In The Raid, Rama is confronted by Andi (Donny Alamsyah), one of the crime lord's two lieutenants. The audience now learns that Rama and Andi are brothers. Rama volunteered for the mission to save his family. Andi refuses to leave his life of crime and they reluctantly part ways.

8. ORDEAL: This is the step in which the hero decides to face his/her greatest challenge. Simba leaves his relaxing life to fight his uncle. Neo decides to rescue Morpheus. Harry and the others decide to save the Philosopher's stone.

In this case, Rama has a way out of the building but decides to remain to save any other surviving team members.

 9. REWARD (SEIZING THE SWORD): This one speaks for itself. It's Harry retrieving the philosopher's stone or Luke finding purpose among the rebels returning to destroy the Death Star.

In the case of The Raid, Rama rescues his brother from the crime lord's other lieutenant, Mad Dog, who is beating him to death. They team up to defeat the psychopath and have a more meaningful (if brief) reunion.

10. THE ROAD BACK: This is more or less the beginning of the end. Luke returns to the Death Star or Frodo and Sam finally arrive at their destination.

As the brothers attempt to leave the building together, Rama learns that Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), the man who organized the raid, is a corrupt cop and was sent to kill Tama, the crime lord, in an attempt to destroy a competitor. In this scene Tama is killed and Wahyu is taken into custody.

11. RESURRECTION: This is generally considered the climax of the story. Luke destroys the Death Star (yay!) or Neo realizes he is the one (duh).

The two brothers survive the slaughter in the tenement building and leave together with Wahyu in custody. Rama tries to convince Andi to come with him but Andi refuses. He is determined to remain in the world of crime.

 12 RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: The hero gains his/her reward. Frodo leaves Middle Earth to live with the elves. Simba takes his place as king of pride rock.

Rama and Bowo leave the tenement building alive and the film ends. In this case the "elixir" is the imprisoned Wahyu. The corrupt cop who instigated the massacre has been captured and there is hope for justice (in the sequel).

The fact that The Raid follows the hero's journey does not automatically put it on the same level as classic epics or pop culture sagas (although it is a very fun/adrenaline pumping movie). However, it does support the concept that no matter how irrelevant the plot may seem, most stories follow similar patterns.

The twelve steps of the Hero's Journey aren't only relevant to action movies or fantasy adventures, either. You can find the same template in many romance stories or family dramas. Perhaps I will make a similar post next time I watch a quiet, down to earth movie.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

RUNNING TIME: 142 Minutes.

DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund

WRITTEN BY: Ruben Östlund

Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Dominic West
Christopher Læssø

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: I got it on DVD from Netflix. It is also available to rent ($4.99) or buy ($14.99) on Amazon Video.

PLOT: A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit.


MEMORABLE MOMENT: The scene displayed in the most in North American promotional materials (posters/trailers) is the one in which a performance artist (Terry Notary) impersonates an ape during a fancy dinner party, accosting several of the guests.

However, the scene that stuck with me the most is the video promoting the eponymous work of art in which we see a sobbing girl holding a kitten get blown up by a bomb.  Even though this is clearly staged to advertise an art exhibit I actually had to stop the DVD for a moment to pet one of my cats. 

  • The scene with Terry Notary (described above and portrayed in the film's poster) was inspired by the Russian artist Oleg Kulik who was invited to the international group exhibition "Interpol" at Färgfabriken, Stockholm. At the opening, Kulik impersonated a dog. He growled, jumped up, rolled and bit one of the guests. He said he acted as a representative of the browbeaten Russian people, who now bite back. 
  • In the beginning of the film, a young woman confronts Christian (Claes Bang) screaming that a man is going to kill her and begging for his help. A man runs up to them, there is a brief altercation and both the man and woman depart. A moment later Christian realizes his wallet and cell phone are missing. This scene was based on a real life incident.  One of the director's friends was robbed a similar way. 

If someone asked me, "What is The Square about?" I would honestly have trouble giving them a two sentence plot summary. In fact the plot I provided above is copied from IMDB (with a few edits to help the flow).

In a way The Square is more of a series of scenes with the same characters following a loose plot thread involving a controversial (but also not controversial enough) art exhibit. There is less of a central plot so much as three or four mini-plots accompanied by several scenes that don't feel entirely related.

These scenes and plot threads share similar themes involving art, class structure and how the wealthy treat the homeless. Nearly all of these scenes are very well acted, directed, filmed and scripted (at least the subtitles were well written). Several scenes would make fantastic short films on their own.

I have nothing against a film abandoning the basic story template. Not every movie needs the three-act structure or all the steps of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. That being said, when the end credits rolled, I was left feeling as though something was missing. The Square is better than countless other films that follow a clearly-defined plot, but at the end of the day the film felt more like a jumble of weird and unfortunate events that happened to occur on the same week.

But why is this a bad thing?

One could argue that I was thrown off because I was raised on movies like Star Wars,  Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard, which all have extremely well-defined plot structures.  Even my favorite "intellectual films" The Bicycle Thieves, 8 1/2 and Dr. Strangelove have a very sharp focus on where the story is headed. Most of these movies have subplots, but these smaller stories all revolve around the central story and the direction our heroes are headed. For the majority of its run-time, The Square doesn't have this. 
So one could argue that my sense of something being missing has a cultural base. Perhaps if I had grown up in a society where Die Hard and Star Wars were a jumble of events rather than a focused story, I would have felt different.

But there might be a deeper reason as well. Humans use stories to view the world, even for purposes that don't involve entertainment. If someone is rude to us at the grocery store, we come home and automatically share the experience in the form of a story.  Like the typical movie, we will have a hero, a villain, a plot and possibly even themes ("Why are people jerks?") and subplots ("I never even found the right peanut butter.")

We don't turn life events into stories to create mega-blockbusters or fine art. We do it because we are following a natural pattern that helps us make sense of the world. That may be why I felt something was missing when I got to the end of The Square. The movie has plenty of small story-lines that lead to the character (possibly?) changing, but a central story line is missing.  None of the stories involved rise above the rest to become the single backbone of the movie. There isn't a single goal that brings all the characters and events together.

Once again, I'm not even certain this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did leave me with a sense that the movie was all subplot. To me, The Square was less of a single story and more like a bunch of stuff that happened to the same people. While this makes for a very unusual movie, I suppose one could argue it does create a work that is more similar to real life.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

RUNNING TIME: 156 Minutes (Don't let the length discourage you, this movie is totally worth it.)

 DIRECTOR: Hong-jin Na

 WRITTEN BY: Hong-jin Na

Do-won Kwak
Jung-min Hwang
Woo-hee Chun
Hwan-hee Kim

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? I watched it on Netflix Instant. It's also available on Amazon Video to rent for $3.99 or to buy for $7.99.

PLOT:  A stranger arrives in a small South Korean village. Soon afterward, a mysterious sickness spreads through the community. The plague begins with a rash, but the infected are soon driven to insanity and commit sickening acts of violence. When a policeman (Do-won Kwak) discovers a rash on his daughter's skin, he turns to a materialistic shaman for help.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: The Shaman's ritual has to take the cake. It involves dancing, animal sacrifice, hammering nails into a totem and spitting blood onto a sword. The sequence is intercut with images of the mysterious stranger performing insidious rituals in his remote cabin.

  • For the exorcism (described above), actor Jung-min Hwang filmed the entire scene in one fifteen minute take.
  • According to director Hong-jin Na, this movie's themes and rituals are based on folk religions from Korea and Nepal, as well as the Catholic faith.  
  • Hwan-hee Kim who played Hyo-jin (Jong-goo's daughter) practiced modern dance for six months to perform scenes of her being possessed. 

Because The Wailing is such a long movie and because I have such a busy schedule (don't we all) I watched the first third of the film and then turned it off for dinner. From what I saw, I'd come to the conclusion I was watching a comedic horror film, something along the lines of Evil Dead 2 or a less self-aware Cabin in the Woods.  Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) plays a painfully inept overweight cop who panics under the slightest provocation.  Sure there were bloody deaths and an ominous tone of foreboding but I returned to The Wailing expecting more horror/comedy hijinx.

Only to discover that that there is NOTHING funny about that final 2/3's of the movie.

I won't give away any spoilers here (last week was an exception) but let's just say things get dark and then darker and then super dark and then we reach the final half hour of the movie.  The inept police officer is no longer the man he was during the first forty-five minutes. By the climax I didn't feel like I was watching the same film anymore. 

Had this been your typical comedic horror movie the two genres would have played off one another for most of the running time.  The violence and gore would build the tension until the bumbling cop did something ridiculous, giving the audience a temporary comedic release. Then the tension would build again and this pattern would continue until the climax. We enjoy these movies because not only do we "survive" the fear, we get to laugh at it.

But the final hour and forty-five minutes of The Wailing barely has a speck of comedy. All lighter moments are nearly buried under dark elements. So why even give us the over-the-top comedy at all in the beginning? Why not just make Jong-goo a typical police officer? The filmmakers wouldn't have had too change much to make The Wailing a 100% straight horror film.

In a way, I already answered my question. Had Jong-goo been a "typical" police officer he wouldn't have been nearly as memorable.  Many cops in horror films may be corrupt, but they at least know how to act at a crime scene. Jon-goo falls in the mud when attacked by an elderly woman, a moment that sticks with the audience.

Even more importantly, his humble beginnings enhance the character's journey. By the end of the first hour his actions are not the actions of the clumsy goof we started out with. Had we met him as a serious character his dark journey would not have been nearly as significant.    

But there are even deeper reasons for the early comedic moments. The Wailing possesses a strong sense of loss. Not only do several people die but the family and community also come undone (not really a spoiler, this is a horror movie after all). It's not as though Jong-goo's family is straight out of a 1950's sitcom, but the first forty-five minutes has light moments that are dashed away later in the film, amplifying this sense of loss. The audience spends the first portion of the film with the bumbling police officer and his inquisitive daughter only to see them (very close to literally) dragged through hell.  The sense of loss we feel after the laughs end would not have been there had Jong-goo started off as an effective officer of the law.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018


This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week.

RUNNING TIME: 121 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Becker

Bernd Lichtenberg
Wolfgang Becker
Achim von Borries
Henk Handloegten (Hendrik Handleoegten)
Chris Silber (Christoph Silber)

Daniel Brühl

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: The usual suspects...Netflix DVD. Amazon Video. YouTube. iTunes. 

PLOT: In 1989, Christiane Kerner has lost her husband and is completely devoted to the Socialist East German state. A heart attack leaves her in a coma for eight months. When she awakens, the Berlin Wall has fallen and it's a whole new world.  Christiane's doctors warn her son, Alex, that a shock could kill her. Therefore, he must do everything within his power to prevent her from learning that capitalism has reached East Germany.


MEMORABLE MOMENT: Alex goes to tremendous lengths to prevent his mother from learning that the Berlin Wall has fallen. He puts new food in old East German packages and films fake news broadcasts.  Therefore one of the film's funniest moments is when an enormous Coca-Cola advertisement goes up right outside her window.    

    • There is a scene in which Alex's friend, Denis (Florian Lukas), appears to be wearing a Matrix T-shirt. Many audience members assumed this was a goof because the scene was set in 1990 when The Matrix didn't come out until 1999. However, the similarities are just a coincidence. The shirt really was around in the late 80's / early 90's. 

    • One of the film's major themes is Ostalgie, nostalgia for aspects of life in old East Germany. 
    • The film was mostly shot in East Berlin. CGI was used extensively to "de-westernize" the setting. Ads for Western products were removed and the colors of many buildings had to be lightened or darkened. 

    So far I've avoided giving away spoilers on this blog, but Good Bye Lenin!'s ending stuck with me so much I had to write about it. Just be warned MAJOR spoilers ahead.

    If Good Bye Lenin! had been made in Hollywood, Alex's mother would have discovered the truth at the film's climax. She would be upset, but she would be more "disappointed" that her son lied to her. Alex and his friends/family would help her accept the changes, though, and the film would end with everyone sitting around a table at Burger King enjoying a meal.*

    And honestly, that wouldn't have been so horrible.  This movie would have still been a fun dramatic comedy with a quirky premise. However, Good Bye Lenin's! actual ending caught me completely off guard in what it had to say about truth and young people's relationship with their elders.

    Just before the film's climax it is strongly implied that Alex's girlfriend, Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), tell's Alex's mother () the truth, although the audience doesn't know if she believes her. Later, Alex creates yet another fake news broadcast claiming that East Germany has a new leader and he has opened the borders to the west. Alex's mother, Christiane, seems to happily accept this news. However, the audience doesn't know if she really believes it or if she is just playing along. Later, despite Alex's best efforts, Christiane passes away and Alex scatters her ashes thinking she died believing that her beloved socialist state was still a major world power. 

    So two things might be happening here. Both imply that lies might be healthier than the truth. 

     1) Christiane doesn't believe Lara, but she believes the fake news broadcast. In this scenario, Alex managed to share a part of the truth with her. His mother now knows that the West has reached East Germany, but she thinks it's under East Germany's own terms. Therefore in the end, Alex's plan worked. His mother may have passed away but she died believing her world was still a whole.

    I should note we do this sort of thing with the elderly all the time. How many times do we avoid "unpleasant" topics with our elders or change the channel when a distressing news program comes on. In fact, while watching this movie I had to wonder how many families in the United States lied to their dying relatives and told them that Hillary won the 2016 presidential election. I'm certainly not saying that such actions are immoral. The motivation is often out of love. However it is still an obstruction of the truth. What Alex does in Good Bye Lenin! is similar, but blown to a comical proportion.

     2) Christiane believes Lara and knows the broadcast is fake. In this scenario Christiane is weaving her own lies. She knows that East Germany is gone, but plays along because she loves her son and appreciates everything he has done for her. She doesn't want him to worry about her. This is also something that happens in real life. The elderly often lie or hide the truth from their younger relatives, allowing them to believe that they are healthier or happier than they really are.

    Alex clearly hates the socialist state but goes to great lengths to create a miniature version of East Germany for his mother. Perhaps on some level he is really doing this for himself, to hold onto a part of the world he grew up in. Therefore, if Christiane really is just playing along at the end, she is the one protecting her son. Good Bye Lenin!'s ending is open to interpretation but however you read it, a lot is being said about the lies relatives tell one another out of love. One also has to wonder if something is being said about the lies we tell ourselves.

    *I should note that I don't make these comparisons to Hollywood movies to say they're all trash. There are a lot of mega blockbusters I love. However, with a few exceptions, these movies mostly fall into a relatively strict formula.