February 17, 2007


Can anybody think of a movie that has had much impact in America made since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that has depicted life under the Communists in Eastern Europe?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Since 1989, no.

But in the mid 80's Joe Sedelmaier of the famous "Where's the Beef?" commercial created this one here that will always be one of my favorite images of Eastern Europe under communism.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
I don't think that any of these movies satisfy your question, however, here are a few movies that I ripped off from Films on Liberty and the State at Mises.org:

"Burnt By the Sun",
"The Inner Circle",
"The Promise",

Some of these are not in English. Well, that was my best effort.

"Enemy at the Gates" with Jude Law and Ed Harris kinda qualifies.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks. "Enemies at the Gate" was a big budget film with Bob Hoskins as Kruschev at Stalingrad, but it also had Nazis, and Hollywood loooooves Nazis!

Anonymous said...


This movie set in East Germany under Communism just came out, so it hasn't had much impact (yet), but Joe Morgenstern of the WSJ just gave it a rave review: Lives of Others


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, Enemy at the Gates portrayed the Nazis as more sympathetic than the Russians. On an individual level, Ed Harris' Nazi Colonel was the villian, but even he was depicted as not simply malevolent, while the Soviet state, represented primarily by Hoskins' Kruschev, is stupid, venal, incompetent and cruel.

"Sunshine" isn't bad as far as showing communism. It depicts the Soviet justice system as being more about stacking up tens of thousands of confessions/executions rather than finding real traitors/criminals and the perverting effect that this has on people.

It also has segments about Nazis, including the Holocause, as the main characters are a Jewish family.

Anonymous said...

i was going to say enemy at the gates but you guys already got it.

it didn't make any impact though, because nobody saw it.

Anonymous said...

The Russia House

Anonymous said...

Also with Connery, The Hunt for Red October.

Though production was likely quite far along by the time the Wall fell.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can think of one. I'm not telling you, though.

michael farris said...

Well, Americans have very little idea of what life was really like in the eastern bloc. That and the tendency toward formulistic bombast makes me happy there haven't been (m)any Hollywood movies about that topic.

In the former eastern bloc itself, there have been some though in some ways more distance (and self-awareness) is needed and financing is always a problem. American resistance to sub-titles (and bad traditions in dubbing) mean they're not going to be date movies at the mall though.

Another problem is the domestic (eastern bloc) audience that's old enough to remember the communist period is divided about what was good and bad in it (almost everyone has some fond memories of some aspects of life then, no doubt nostalgically enhanced) and the young just plain aren't interested.

Kolya (Czech) was pretty good and I really enjoyed Goodbye Lenin (German) though widely misunderstood in lots of places (the director said the mother wasn't a communist per se, she was an idealist who wanted a better future and her son's final gift wasn't the triumph of socialism but an optimistic vision of the future).

More recently the Lives of Others (German about Stasi domestic surveillance) is said to be very good though I haven't seen it.

Anonymous said...

How can there be a discussion of Eastern Europe under Communism and no mention of Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

Unlike other movies mentioned here, it did have (and continues to have) a passionate audience. It is routinely compared to "Rocky Horror" in terms of popularity. The demographic may skew DINKy in the upper age brackets, but there are lots of young 'uns there, too, which can hardly be said of "Enemy at the Gates".

I agree with dyork's IDing of the mid 80s Wendy's campaign, as well as several real-life East German "womens" Olympic athletes as fixing the general character of Eastern European communism in the American mind, forever.

Anonymous said...

It was in 1988 (close), but Philip Kaufman's version of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" turned a lot of people to the writings of Milan Kundera.

Anonymous said...

There as that bit at the beginning of "The Spy Game" (Redord, Pitt), where the Pitt character is trying to help someone defect from Czechoslovakia (or was it E.Germany?). Does that count?

An old "Reason" article discussed this. Read it http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/939417/posts because the "a-ha" posts that follow are amusing for their ignorance. (Well, one poster seemed to know the real reason.)

dougjnn said...

A movie which utterly fails your date requirement, but which undoubtedly has had more viewers than all the other films mentioned her combined, is Dr. Zhivago.

The trouble is that film took sort of a "horrified awe" view of life under communism. There were all those incredibly broken eggs of personal lives and brutalities, but then there was that amazing hydroelectric plant that they had managed to build in short order shown in the final shots. The impression is of a society yanked savagely into modernity.

The message from the film in other words (not talking the book) could be taken as perhaps it WAS worth it after all.

A French film I saw on netflix (love it) DVD, which fails your test in another way since I think a diminishingly small numbers of Americans have seen it, and those who have all live in either NY or California or a few college towns (but not so many since in the end it's a rather anti-lefty film) is East-West.

It's message isn't terribly harsh or graphic but it ends up being in a single unmistakable direction. But it will not appeal to those Americans who feel that the French love of a large variety of pungent cheeses is a winning basis for ridiculing them (there are however others).

The dominant sense is that extreme idealistic causes just don't work out when translated into reality and it's time to get back to little pleasures and small improvements. A very French message.

dougjnn said...

However, as your search for "closest it's come" would suggest, I think it's clear that a "Schindler's List" about the Communist horrors has never been made -- certainly not in English, and I don't think in the rest of Western Europe either.

In contrast "the horrors of the Nazis" has probably been the single most dominant historical meme in American film since the sixties began.

Anonymous said...

dougjnn, is that French film about a Russian emigre returning to the Soviet Union with his French wife only to be almost immediately disenchanted?

I don't recall the name. It certainly painted quite a bleak picture of life under the communists, though.

Anonymous said...

"The Tunnel" (German language film) is a very good portrayal of the divided postwar Berlin. It does a good job of showing the grimness of life under Communism, and how rule of the rich gave way to despotism of the bureaucrat.

In America, where even welfare kids wear $200 sneakers and play PS2, people cannot fathom why Communism appealed to Russians one generation removed from a medieval lifestyle or (some) Germans living in the ruins of a modern industrial state ravaged by two nationalist wars.

But Americans certainly can understand the burdensome weight of bureaucracy on the lives of people who would otherwise be reasonably self-sufficient. "The Tunnel" conveys some of that.

Unknown said...

Outside of your time span there is the 1970's movie "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" which made a big impact on me. It was not produced in Hollywood. The opening scene was wonderful; a slow flight over darkness in which a spot of light slowly resolves into lights on top of a barbed wire fence in the snow before dawn.

Also, there does not come to mind any movie ever describing everyday life (not involving the Holocaust) inside Germany during the war. I'd be interested to see such a movie. I would hope that it would show how dictators gain and maintain power.

Ross said...

'Goodbye Lenin' is the only one which springs to mind.

Anonymous said...

There have been quite a few European films about life under communism, but I don't think any of them have made a splash in America. I recently saw the French "East-West", which was pretty good. I liked "Life of Others", too.

Hollywood has been reluctant to make films about the evils of communism. In previous decades, this may have been due to ideological reasons, but I doubt anyone in today's Hollywood is nostalgic for the Soviet Union.

I think if someone like Spielberg made a big movie about communist horrors, it would open the floodgates, and we'd see more movies like that because there are lots of mind-boggling stories to be told about "workers' paradises."

For example, the Kengir uprising (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kengir_uprising) is exactly the kind of unlikely story about valiant underdogs revolting against fascist authority that Hollywood loves -- and it's all true. It could make a great movie. If some struggling screenwriter is reading this, the Kengir story could be your ticket to fame and fortune!

Anonymous said...

I'll venture to guess, that in the English language, there have been no well-known movies since the fall of the Berlin Wall that have depicted life in Eastern Europe under communism.

I'll go further and guess there have been no well-known English language movies depicting life under communism anywhere in the world since that time. I cannot think of any movie since 1989 that depicts life in communist China, for example. The Last Emperor would be as close one gets to a depiction of communist China and that was released in 1987. Sadly, Team America's portrayal of Kim Jong-Il may be as close as we get to Hollywood examining Asian communism.

Excepting Vietnam movies (Hollywood loves Vietnam, though not as much as it loves the Nazis), a few spy thrillers, Rambo, and Dr. Strangelove, it would seem that the Cold War pretty much never happened for Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood Jews are not interested in communism. Never happened.

Lysander Spooner said...

I second the "Good bye, Lenin!" recommendation.

Good bye, Lenin! Trailer

dougjnn said...

Daniel said--
dougjnn, is that French film about a Russian emigre returning to the Soviet Union with his French wife only to be almost immediately disenchanted?

Yuup. That’s “East-West”.

Anonymous said...

"Hollywood Jews are not interested in communism. Never happened."

Any Rand was, that's why she wrote We The Living and tried (unsuccessfully) to get Cecil B. DeMille to produce it.


Anonymous said...

Rand was indeed. But surely you remember how warmly she was embraced by the Hollywood community.

Anonymous said...

I would prefer an accurate Hollywood movie about life in Maoist China even more than one about the Eastern bloc.

Even ignorant/liberal people are generally aware of the fact that life under Soviet-style communism was Very Bad Indeed. They just don't like to talk about it. But I'm amazed at the fact that that same group of people is almost completely clueless about what a hellhole Maoism created, and the fact that the body count was much higher.

Another burning hope of mine would be an honest, influential film about Castro and Che. Something like that would probably have the biggest effect in terms of turning people around.

Anonymous said...

You should give Speilburg a call.

Ross said...

{ . I cannot think of any movie since 1989 that depicts life in communist China }

At a stretch I suppose you could argue that 'Seven Years In Tibet' sort of counts.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one reason we don't see a lot of "horrors-of-life-under-communism" movies is that we didn't win. Communism more or less petered out without a decisive battle fought against it. James Bond et al. were Cold War spy heroes - that much was dramatized, in abundance - but our side never engaged in direct battle with communism and won. Contrast the situation versus the Nazis. We crushed the evil Nazis. The Soviets - we allied with them, then things got tense for 50 years (spies sneaking about), we fought some dirty proxy wars against them and lost the most open of these (Vietnam), then poof! The only commies left are some banana republics like Cuba and a crony capitalist country not so dissimilar from our own (China).

So, there is no "Victorious Hero-Crushed Monster" frame from which to proceed with any kind of meaningful story. Just personal films about somebody's alcoholism, and somebody got arrested. Not enough to put butts in the theatre seats.

Anonymous said...

Americans dont pay much attention to foreign movies,ESPECIALLY if theyre serious. We like British movies the most,French to a lesser extent,some Japanese(which I like!:) )--and the occasional Irish/Scotch offering. Long,dreary movies about suffering and sadness and grain harvests are NOT gonna catch on here! To deal with the Communist stories for an American audience we need American movies--maybe Warren Beatty could produce a gulag archipelago thing! :0 Or,maybe not...

John Tabin said...

"I cannot think of any movie since 1989 that depicts life in communist China, for example."

Add The Red Violin to your Netflix queue, then.

Anonymous said...

"Another burning hope of mine would be an honest, influential film about Castro and Che."

Try "Before Night Falls" directed by Julian Schnabel.

Anonymous said...

There was a HBO miniseries about Stalin several years ago. I never saw it, but I can't imagine it was very favorable (since these days even the lefest of leftists admits Stalin was a monster).
The popularity of Nazi/Holocaust movies is attributable to two factors, in my opinion. Yes, one is the heavy Jewish presence in Hollywood, but I also think that anonymous 12:22 is on to something. We actually fought that the Nazis in open battle, so we can have movies that have Nazis as background characters while focusing on the people Americans are likely to really care about: other Americans. So we have two types of Nazi movies - Holocaust movies and war movies - and between them they take up quite a bit of the movie market.

Macbrvs94 said...

White Nights was 1985.
Company Business sorta qualifies.
The Saint was set in modern russia (1997) but makes lots of references to cold war russia.

Boy, tough one.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks, everybody, most helpful.

togo said...

Thw question is, of course, implicitly "anti-semitic". You are pointing out the specific ethnic concerns of the group that is dominant in Hollywood.

But the lack of a Gotterdammerung-like ending for the Soviet empire may be a big reason for the paucity of films about Soviet barbarity. If the Hungarians have produced anything worth seeing (post-89) about the 1956 revolt I'd like to see it-even without subtitles.

BTW, wasn't Goodbye Lenin a comedy? Among the many movies dealing with the Holocaust, I think there have been only one or two comedic films dealing directly or indirectly with the Nazi genocide.

Anonymous said...


I dont think movies have "big impacts" upon the populace as a whole these days due to the fragmentation of modern audiences. We are not "one big nation" like we were in 1970. The closest thing to a movie "everybody saw" in the past 15 years was "Titanic". I think smaller niche films will occupy more and more of Hollywood's product plans in the ensuing decades as we split ethnically and culturally into groups (Christians, Athiests, Muslims, Neo-Pagans, Envrionmentalists, Corporatists, Music lovers, Hip-Hoppers, Nerds, Sports fanatics, Aesthetics, adrenaline junkies, pleasure-worshippers, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I saw the HBO "Stalin" biopic. It reminded me of the positions of a lot of leftists who used to offer rhetorical support for communism: the system was ok, but it had been led by the wrong people. Stalin and Beria are shown as monsters while the intellectuals like Trotsky and Bukharin are treated much more sympathetically.

But it's a stretch to say that it had an impact.

Hollywood types have are too romantically invested in communism to ever show its ravages. Witness Selma Hayek's "Frida," in which communism is the only haven for art and freedom - but again, it's corrupted by baddies like Stalin, and Dionysian gluttons like Diego Rivera.

Steve Sailer said...

Although even a $200 million box office smash is seen in the theatres by only about 10% of the population, eventually a very large fraction will see it on DVD and TV.

Anonymous said...

Andy Vanja of Carolco is currently producing a movie about the infamous Hungarian-Soviet Olympic water polo match that happened shortly after the Hungarian revolt was put down. That should qualify.

Anonymous said...

"East-West" has a Russian screenwriter and some Russain actors,some dialogues are in Russian... I think I have seen it in Russian version if I am correct. So it is in my opinion rather Russian-French that purely French. Just a thought.

Steve, how about that movie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Does_not_Believe_in_Tears ?

It was very popular in Soviet Union when it was made in 1979, it is a melodramatic one, but it surely depicts life in Soviet Union.

There were so many movie in Russia in 90s about different aspects of life in USSR that people are now sick of them. The problem that decause of language barrier most of them are not known to Western audience. And it is too bad. No movie ever produced in Hollywood could be considered to adequately depict life in Soviet Union. It is like expecting that a movie made in India or China in the 80s about life in USA in the 60s would be seriously accepted by an American public. :) You have to live in the country to know it, feel it, to be able to make a believable film.

None of the Hollywood movie about Russia/Soviet Union ever touched me the way some Russian/Soviet movies did, even though they were made with political constraints imposed on the movie-makers.

Some 90s Russian movies known abroad -

Burnt by the Sun ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnt_by_the_Sun )

Kavkazskiy plennik http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner_of_the_Mountains

Anonymous said...

John Tabin,

Add The Red Violin to your Netflix queue, then.

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

Ditto the person who said non-Russians cannot hope to understand Russia under Communism. It's like making a movie about "The Horrors of Life Under the Chinese Emperor." Well, it wasn't so unnatural to the Chinese! ... The horrors of life on an ant farm, why can't ants live more like termites?

Chinese Maoists are Chinese first and Maoists second. Ditto for Russian Communists. I'm surprised to see such - excuse me - liberal naivete - among readers here.

The Slavs have a cultural habit of whining and complaining, no matter what. Pay it no mind. Solzhenitsyn barely got finished whining about Communism before he got to the US and started whining about America. The eternal hangover of the Slavic soul. "Horrors of Bolshevism," my eye. Reality check: the 20th century was paved with body bags (just all like the centuries before it, and all those to come).

The biggest achievement of the 20th century was nationalizing class differences, so millions of Americans and Europeans have the illusion that all the world can be affluent at once. That's it. And the so-called "Neo Cons" who think the world can be democratic are as delusional as liberals who think everyone will be geniuses if only teachers try a little harder or a little more money is spent.

Anonymous said...

A few movies were made, but they did very poorly at the box office.

I look forward to seeing "the Lives of Others". It's getting good reviews. If it is as good as I've heard, it may be the first post-89 life-under-communism film that a lot of Americans see. It could have a huge impact.

It has a sexy female star, which should bring people in; but it's in German, which might scare people away. "Pan's Labyrinth" is in Spanish, has has brought in over $30 million in the U.S. already. Sure, some of the viewers must have been Hispanic, but most of the people at the theatre I attended looked pretty gringo.

"Letters from Iwo Jima" has brought in more than $11 million already, and it's in Japanese.

I suspect that "the Lives of Others" should bring in something in between, perhaps in the $20-30 million range.

~ Risto