The Tin Drum by Volker Schlöndorff
This movie was not what I expected. I suppose that’s a crummy way of starting off a review, but even as I write this review, I have a hard time putting my feelings into words. The Tin Drum (based on the novel by Günter Grass) is a film I admire, and it is definitely powerful and memorable. However, to call it disturbing is to just scratch the surface.
The whole reason the film “works” is that the main character is a child, albeit a strange child. Oskar is born into the pre-World War 2 world completely aware of himself and his surroundings. At the age of 3 he concludes that adults are nasty, ugly creatures and decides to stop growing. At this point, the film could’ve been an interesting look at the rise of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a child gifted with the intellect of an adult, a combination of innocence and wisdom.
However, the film is not that. At least, not entirely. For one thing, Nazism is treated peripherally. The focus of the film is the little world that Oskar inhabits. Another thing is that Oskar is far from being innocent. Although he observes that adults are nasty and pitiful, he is not without his own faults. Even though Oskar remains a child on the outside, inside he becomes a tricky, deceitful, and manipulative individual. Soon, the evil inside him makes that of the adults around him pale in comparison.
It’s never really clear if Oskar cares for anyone other than himself. He seems completely ambivalent to everyone around him, focused entirely on himself. In looking back, the film is almost an indictment of those who remained ambivalent in the face of Nazism’s rise. They only saw the good things that occured as Hitler and his cohorts gained power; the increased national pride, military strength, and prosperity. However, they remained blissfully unaware of the underlying evil that would eventually lead to one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind. Oskar seems like a metaphor for this. On the outside, he is a sweet little boy lavished with attention and love. On the inside, he is deceitful and conniving, eventually destroying the lives of those around him.
When the film was originally released, it was branded as child pornography. Technically, it’s not, but there are plenty of sexual situations in the movie, several of which involve Oskar. Although Oskar’s body doesn’t age, his mind does and he eventually reaches adulthood with all of its lusts and desires. These come to surface when the beautiful Anna arrives to help out after Oskar’s mother commits suicide. A sexual relationship begins between Oskar and Anna. Although no explicit sexual activity is shown, it does occur, leading to some scenes that are difficult to watch.
The Tin Drum is a powerful and memorable film, and depending upon how you perceive the content, that can be a good thing or a terrible thing. There are scenes that will make many people wince and squirm in their seats, and it walks a very fine line in justifying those with the themes that it deals with. Personally, I find myself focusing more on the metaphor of Oskar. He’s a fascinating character, and the actor portraying him (David Bennent) does an excellent job of conveying Oskar as a child who is only childish on the outside. This is not a movie for everyone, and not just because of the film’s sexual content. It is a disturbing one, because we expect to see innocence and childhood, but instead find corruption and sin.