Movies »The Tin Drum

the tin drum ? It's rare for me to watch a movie and immediately go online to research its symbolism and themes, but The Tin Drum, which is adapted from the 1959 Nobel Prize winning novel by Gunter Grass, is just the kind of sprawling, literary, and complex movie that prompts me to recall terminology from my high school English classes and actually put it to use.

David Bennet (you might recognize him from Legend) is brilliantly cast as Oskar. In fact, he's so brilliantly cast that I cannot imagine the film working at all without him. Oskar, a strange boy with the ability to shatter glass with his screams, is a child of three when he decides to stop growing, finding the world of adults unappealing. With his constant companion, a tin drum, he grows older–through not taller–as an outsider in the increasingly dangerous world of increasingly Nazi dominated independent city of Danzig (which was created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, now it's a a part of Poland called Gdansk).

While in some ways this child represents the will of the individual and the potential of one person to change the tune of the world–quite literally: in one scene he manages to transform a Nazi rally into a jazzy dance party by drumming to his own beat–Oskar is far from a hero, or even an anti-hero. Like many artists during the Nazi regime, he never really uses his powers to change anything; he wanders through the horrors of the war with little more than his own needs and wants in mind.

The film, which is far from boring, is frequently surreal and humorous, but definitely not for the squeamish. Frightening and disturbing images abound, particularly in one scene involving eels and a dead horse head. It's also an extremely controversial movie, especially in conservative Canada and America (possesing a copy in Oklahoma City would actually land you in jail for 20 years) where the sex scenes between the twelve year old star and various women (which are implied, but still pretty unsettling to watch) were considered child pornography by some law makers; a high profile hearing followed wherein the film was vindicated.

I haven't read the novel, but it seems like the adaptation omits big parts of the book (post war fame as a jazz drummer, false admission of nun-slaying), which isn't too surprising considering the film is already bursting at the seams (at a 140 minute run time) with stuff to make you think, and it makes a good case for picking up the novel, which is part of Grass's Danzig trilogy. Director Volker Schl?ndorff has created an unforgettable cinematic experience that is as beautiful as it is unnerving. Criterion has released the 1980 Best Foriegn Laungage Film winner with a disc that includes a documentary about the controversy, the screenplay's original un-filmed ending, a rare recording of Gunter Grass reading from the novel, and other Criterion Collection-y goodies.

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Posted on September 22, 2008

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