Re-purposing Reality in ‘Good Bye, Lenin’

“As I stared at the clouds that day, I realized that truth was a rather dubious concept — easily adapted to how Mother saw the world” (1:05:25).

This line is taken from the scene where Alex and Denis first shoot a fake news segment to account for a seeming irregularity in the world Alex has constructed for Christiane. This specific “report” was necessitated by the unfortunate placement of a giant “drink Coca Cola” banner on the one building that Christiane was able to view from her bed, her seeing of which brought an impromptu end to their slapdash parties with their neighbors and the (former (and impressively inebriated)) principle of Chrisitane’s (former) school. In order to try and explain how such a blatant capitalistic endorsement could be so proudly slung over the once hallowed condominium halls of their esteemed Socialist Germany, Alex decides to film a report outside of Coca Cola in which Denis details the unlikely story of how Coca Cola came to be integrated into a society in which it takes over three years to get a car.

From the very beginning, things don’t go as planned. An employee immediately walks into the shot and demands to see their permit, then storms inside to call the cops. However, instead of rushing to shoot the scene and get out before the balding harbringer of the sucralose-saturated free market, they decide to wait for the clouds to part and the lighting to improve.

In the final cut of the report that Alex shows to Christiane, a shot of the Coke employee trying to stop them from filming is used to show how, embarrassed by having to “meld with a factory in East Germany that actually invented Coca Cola,” the giant West-German conglomerate is trying to censor the press of the East. Christiane rightly points out that she thought Coca Cola was invented before the war, not in the 1950’s (and in America, not East or West Germany) as the report stated, but she readily dismisses that unsavory remembered fact for this new, fulfilling revelation that Coca Cola is a Socialist invention that the Capitalist West had tried to pry away from them. The reality of their situation — that they were rightfully prevented from filming without a permit in the attempt to concoct some far-flung lie — is able to be re-purposed into the truth of the lie they’re trying to tell.

The irony here is that truth isn’t being shaped to fit how Christiane sees the world, but how Alex sees it for her (and, as is revealed in the second half of the film, how he’d like Christiane to see him wanting it to be himself — which she (and he) ultimately does (/do)).

A further irony is that the realization Alex arrives out about truth by crafting his own for the sake of his mother, runs counter to the very socialism at the heart of his personal truth. The notion of a shared, objective reality seems to conform much more to the socialism he’s trying to proclaim still lives, than to the Nietzschian, forcefully imposed perspectivism (note the visual references to the beginning of Breathless in the scene where they all drive to the cabin). To my mind, the subjectivity implied by the phrase “dubious truth” seems much more akin to the free market he’s proclaiming they aren’t a part of.

As the film progresses, Alex’s ironic, dismissive attitude towards the politics of his upbringing dissipates as he’s made to keep it alive. In the scene where his money is refused he seems to have totally become the bitter East German he’d mocked earlier.

In having to create a reality out of reality and reinstate the universality of socialism out of his perspectivism (and fighting against the seemingly universal truth of his living in a dog-eat-dog free market), Alex is forced to repurpose the truth — both the truth of the outside world and his own, personal truth. His ironic dismissal of politics gave his mother a literal heart attack and so the only way to ensure her safety was to find some way to genuinely connect to the ideology he now had to keep alive.

So, sitting outside Coca Cola while the employee rings the cops, he looks at the clouds and waits for the sun to come out so he can show his mother their world as it really is(n’t).