Synopsis of the Film "The Tin Drum"

by Nathaniel Williams

"The Tin Drum" is based on Gunter Grass's novel of the same name.

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"The Tin Drum," directed by Volker Schlondorff, is a controversial but landmark German film that won the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film's sexually themed scenes involving minors drew protests in the United States, including in Oklahoma, where the movie was briefly banned, but today it is generally acknowledged by critics to be a classic of political dark comedy.

The Setting

"The Tin Drum" is set among the Polish-German community of Danzig in the inter-war years and during World War II. This community, known as Kashubian or Pomeranian, is typical of many central and eastern European people who held complicated ethnic and national identities. Danzig was made a "free city" at the end of World War I, and though nominally part of Poland, it had extensive rights of self-governance.

Oskar's Early Years

The protagonist of "The Tin Drum" is Oskar Matzerath. Oskar's mother has two lovers, a German, Alfred, and a Pole, Jan. She marries the German but may have conceived Oskar by Jan instead, whom she retains as a lover after her marriage. Oskar is born with unique abilities, including a highly advanced mind and an unbearably high-pitched scream that can shatter glass.

The Tin Drum

On his third birthday, Oskar is given a tin drum as a birthday present -- a present he was promised in utero for his consent to be born. He has seen enough of the adult world and decides to prevent himself from joining it. Oskar hurls himself down the basement staircase in order to shatter his bones and stunt his growth. He takes as his uniform a German navy sailor suit and clings to his tin drum constantly.

World War Comes

Oskar's legal father, Alfred, becomes part of the growing Nazi movement in Danzig. His likely biological father Jan moves closer to the Polish nationalist movement. Meanwhile, Oskar learns the remarkable power of his horrifying scream and hypnotic drum-playing to manipulate the adults around him. When the Nazi invasion of Poland occurs and quickly overwhelms Danzig, both Jan and Oskar's mother are killed in bizarre ways.

The War Ends: Spoilers

Alfred takes a new wife, Maria, who becomes Oskar's stepmother. Nevertheless, the stunted Oskar takes Maria for his lover and seems to impregnate her. Oskar is frustrated when he cannot persuade his apparent son (and stepbrother) to join him in perpetual childhood, so he joins a group of performing dwarfs. As the war ends with the Soviet conquest of Danzig, Oskar finally decides to let go of his childhood and become an adult.


Photo Credits

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