Take note and learn from the way this essay has been structured. This essay received a mark of 20 out of 20 and captures the essence of the module with reference to a really good related text!
Question: Compare how the texts you have studied emphasize the complexities evident in the interplay of history and memory
History, a struggle over the past in the present to shape the future, is an exploration of the causal relationships between individuals and events. However, history has always been contested terrain, due to the fact that history is established through individual and collective memories, which by nature are subjective and coloured by circumstance.In the post modern era, the conventional ways of thinking which dismiss memory due to its bias and triumph historical fact have been challenged, and the credibility of history has been diminished by literature which explores how both history and memory can be essential to any construction of the past. Through their representation of history and memory, Frears’ The Queen and Becker’s Goodbye Lenin explore the nature of each individual concept and their interconnectedness in establishing the past. A plethora of film techniques are employed by both directors in order to represent the importance of memory in establishing the personal dimension of history, the relevance of trivial historical accuracies in constructing a representation of history and the process by which memory can reshape and colour historical events.
Memory gives history a third dimension of individual emotion and personal experience to documented history that is necessary in understanding the historical value and meaning of both the past and the present. It is not historical truth alone that allows one to gain a universal understanding of an event or person, but rather the interrelationship of the factual history and the personal and collective memories. In his representation of the contrast between the individual and collective memories prior to the death of Princess Diana, Frears concurs with this notion and allows the responder to establish their own emotional connection with the historical event. Through the representation of the Queen’s struggle to respond appropriately to the Diana, Frears explores the aforementioned personal and emotional third dimension of history. The Queen is represented as in a confused struggle between protocol and precedent and the desires and needs of her people. This comes across subtly, through the character’s facial expressions at the sight or sound of her people’s disappointment with her behavior, and more explicitly through her dialogue, where she comments “I chose to keep my feelings to myself. Foolishly, I believed that was what the people wanted from her Queen” to Tony Blair. In many ways, this fulfills the purpose of Frears film, to represent the unexplored memories of this significant historical event; the untold stories which allow an individual to gain a more global understanding on all dimensions of the implications and significance of certain moments in history. Becker also explores the importance of memory in accounting for the personal experience of history in Good Bye Lenin! . When the Berlin wall falls, Becker uses montage and dialogue to suggest the limitations of the former German Democratic Republic and also represent new found freedom and the ability to experience new things on a personal level. The protagonist’s sister, Arianne, is featured in this montage trying out different cultural activities such as belly dancing and experiencing a relationship with a West German man. This construction of the responses to the fall of the German Democratic republic enables Becker to illustrate that when an historical event such as the fall of the Berlin wall occurs, it is personal experience and the emotions associated with the tangible events which enable a more global understanding of the actual historical event itself. To Arianne, and most likely to many others, the fall of the Berlin War was the fall of more than just physical barriers, and through Goodbye Lenin, Becker establishes this truth and validates the personal dimension of memory as that which contributes to a universal understanding of an historical event.
In the construction of a representation of history, it is individual and collective memory which conjures an understanding of the historical figure or event, yet it is historically accurate details and trivialities which authenticate such representations. Physical evidence and relevant historical details are essential in constructing both history and context as they create direct links to memory. Frears interweaves the imagined and the real into a believable representation of history, in order to tap into and make a connection with the collective memory and individual’s personal memories of the historic event. He achieves this through incorporating researched historical accuracies into the narrative. This is exemplified in the character of Cherie Blair, who is constructed to be critical of the Monarchy through dialogue and her actions, most notably when she offers a shallow curtsy to the Queen and calls the royals “a bunch of freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters.” It is a widely accepted historical fact that Cherie Blair was an anti-monarchist who offered disrespectful curtsies only to the Queen. The inclusion of such a historical truth by Frears makes the representation of both history and memory more believable by creating a direct link to the historical understanding of Cherie Blair and the way that people remember her. Becker also inquires into the importance of historical accuracies in representing history through his construction of Alex’s reaction to his mother waking up from her coma, after the German Democratic Republic she loved so greatly had collapsed. Alex changes their apartment to the way it was before the wall fell in order to reconstruct her old world by means of physical signifiers. He collects evidence from before the wall fell, such as foods and furniture that his mother was used to, and pieces it together to form a reconstruction of the past. This reconstruction is symbolized by the pretend “News Reports” Alexander and his friend Dennis film and present to Christiane as real to cover up the increasing presence of symbols of the West such as giant Coke billboards. Alex’s concealment of the impact of Westernization with signifiers from his mother’s memory is Becker’s way of demonstrating how essential physical evidence is in constructing history and context by creating a direct link to memory.
History can only be recorded retrospectively; hence, to a degree it relies on memory. The interplay of history and memory therefore can result in new understandings of events and people, ones which are now reshaped and coloured by individual and collective memories. In the post modern era, history has lost its monopoly over the production and conservation of the past, and memory has developed independently. Frears explores this notion in The Queen through his representation of collective memory. Archival footage which is weaved into the film communicates a particular collective memory, which is in many ways just as relevant to the actual death of Princess Diana as the car crash itself. The archival footage is an authentic means of representing memories synonymous with the death of Diana-grown men exploding in tears at the news of her death, mountains of flowers outside Buckingham palace and irate Britons expressing their anger at the monarchy’s failure to respond to their needs. Frears, through the inclusion of such footage, is attempting to represent how a particular collective memory can reshape and impact on the way an historical event, in this case the death of Princess Diana, is remembered and referred to in the future. Becker also represents the dynamic relationship between memory and history in the final scenes of Goodbye Lenin. In his final charade, Alex changes the way his mother will remember the fall of the German Democratic Republic through a pretend news report in which he gives “the GDR the send-off it deserved.” Becker references the fact that memory can reshape and colour the way historical events are represented and referred to, and goes beyond this to inquire into the nature of humans to romanticize their own individual memories of historical events when Alex comments that “The GDR I created for her increasingly became the one I might have wished for.”
Through literature, the concepts of history and memory are explored and appreciated as separate entities and also as interconnected elements that unlock our understanding of the past. History and memory provide both complementary and conflicting understandings of human and personal experience, yet together constitute a source of understanding on all levels of the events and people before the present. In both The Queen and Goodbye Lenin, Frears and Becker use filmic techniques to represent the relevance of memory in enabling a more universal understanding of history, the importance of historical accuracies to re-enact history and link it to memory, and the way in which memory can colour an understanding of certain historic events.