The Tin Drum (Die blechtrommel)

The Tin Drum

There once was a drummer. His name was Oskar.

I’d been warned about The Tin Drum before I finally sat down to watch it, in particular how its main character Oskar was the biggest little prick of a child that side of Le Gamin au Velo. It was that plus the length that made me hesitant to start this; I didn’t know if I would be able to handle such a repugnant character for two and a half hours. I started it nonetheless, and the film seemed to give me a gift; the kid didn’t show up until a good 10-15 minutes into it, giving me a respite while I got used to the filmmaking style and production on display. That, I think, is what made The Tin Drum ultimately work for me, and even when the kid did become the center of attention, I was still able to find a lot to appreciate and enjoy about the film.

Oskar Matzerath, who narrates his own story even before he is born, is a young boy with many odd peculiarities about him. He was born with an adult mentality, has a screech that can shatter glass, and when he is three, he deliberately throws himself down a flight of stairs in order to stop his body’s growing process, successfully I might add. From then on, we follow him as he grows older without actually growing up, and always with the tin drum he was given on his third birthday. I’ve made mention before how the production value of a film can be quite thorough without coming across as excessive, and The Tin Drum is another great example of this. With seemingly minimal effort, director Volker Schlondorff re-creates a pre-WWII Germany, one that evolves over time, and what was best was it wasn’t overtly noticeable; it blended into the background, as truly great production value should. Besides the production itself, the plot was the main focus, and it exceeded my expectations for it, coming across as a weirdly black comedy; the kind that doesn’t go for overt laughs, but just a wry sense of otherworldliness, and The Tin Drum definitely succeeds in this. As for Oskar himself, I was surprised to find I didn’t hate him nearly as much as I thought I would; his venom-laced narration aside. Sure, he’s a bit of a brat, and the film opts to focus his characterization entirely on that which is negative about him, giving us none of the positive, but I didn’t take personal offense to him like I did the kid in Le Gamin au Velo, so that’s another win for this one. Also, the music was very interesting; it seemed to be a combination of a typical orchestral musical score and some sort of exotic instrument, maybe a didgeridoo, that added another layer of strangeness to the film.

There’s apparently a whole ‘nother layer of subtext beneath the film, like how Oskar’s eponymous tin drum is a metaphor for his rebellion against the German middle class, symbolized by his decision to not grow up, and blah-de-blah. As I’ve said before, unless there’s nothing else to notice about the film, I generally do not watch it for the subtext; I watch it at face value, and at face value, this was weirdly enjoyable, even with the repugnant main character at the center of the film. This ended up winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, along with Apocalypse Now, and frankly, I’m a little surprised they went with this one as well; it seemed much too straightforward a film for Cannes to gift the top prize. Still, it wasn’t nearly as distasteful as I was expecting, and there were moments sprinkled throughout that really made me like the film as a whole, so I’ll chalk that up as a modest win.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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