The Tin Drum
Distributor: United Artists/World Pictures
Released: May 1979
Country: West Germany
Allegorical stories are okay by me as long as the underlying story stands on its own and makes sense. If the Letter A on a dress or a talking pig stand for something beyond their literal meaning, then fine, as long as I can understand them as the Letter A or a talking pig. The problem comes when the viewer needs a decoder ring or some sort of handbook with him to tell him what the symbolic meaning of whatever the allegory is. The Wizard of Oz doesn’t have to be about bimetallism or 19th century American politics in order to be enjoyed.
Then there’s The Tin Drum. Here are a few things we have going on here:
- Oskar is a little boy fathered by either a Pole or a German
- Though years go by, Oskar spends most of the movie as a toddler
- Oskar constantly bangs on his tin drum, needing replacement after replacement
- Oskar’s tin drum can make Nazis stop goose-stepping and start waltzing
- Oskar’s scream breaks glass more efficiently than Ella Fitzgerald’s scat
|Jan, Alfred, and Oskar with his titular tin drum|
|Oskar in super-creepy mode|
World War II breaks out, further underscoring the differences between Jan and Alfred. At some point we are introduced to 16-year-old Maria, who is hired to work at Alfred’s shop. She’s a pretty thing, and not all that choosy with whose company she shares. Sometime later, she'll have her own weird kid, and like Oskar, he will never be sure who the father is. The suspects? Alfred, who must be in his 50’s by then, or Oskar, who, of course, is 3. Yes, this was quite the controversial movie.
|Maria: She's not too picky|
The Title: Die Blechtrommel, in German. The title is the same as the 1959 Günter Grass novel upon which this film was based. My bet is that I wouldn’t have understood the book any more than I did the film.
|Representation of heartless industry, or just a Tin Man?|
Agenda danger: If I had understood all the symbols in this thing, I may have been wearied by the message. I sensed an anti-nationalism coming from Oskar’s unhappiness at having been raised by two men who represented two political views and countries of origin. But as usual, the Nazis who are the bad guys, and who can object to that?
Best Picture that year: Kramer vs. Kramer.
Rating: The Tin Drum won a bunch of awards and made a ton of money, so who am I to say it’s no good? I will say that I laughed a few times, though I’m not too sure I was supposed to. In the end, it made me ask myself this philosophical question: Who is smarter: intellectuals who watch movies like this and understand all the meanings, or the common folk who avoid watching movies like this?