The Tin Drum (film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel) is a 1978 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Günter Grass. It was directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff.

The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival and the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Roland Topor designed its film poster.


The film begins in 1899 with the grandfather of Oskar Matzerath, the main character, being pursued by the police through rural Kashubia. Hiding underneath the skirts of a young woman named Anna Bronski, whom he later marries and has a daughter with – Oskar's mother. He evades the authorities until he apparently drowns trying to escape them. As time goes by, Anna's daughter Agnes has an incestuous affair with her cousin Jan Bronski, a worker in the Polish Post Office, until she is introduced to the charismatic Alfred Matzerath while serving as a nurse during World War I. The two men become firm friends, albeit love rivals, and later Agnes gives birth to a son, Oskar. Oskar has an adult mentality since birth and upon hearing from Alfred that he will inherit his grocery shop when he is an adult, he decides to stop growing by the age of three.

On Oskar's third birthday, he is given a tin drum, something that will remain with him for the rest of the film. Oskar throws himself down the cellar stairs, strangely injuring himself, and from that day on he does not grow any older. It is discovered that Oskar has the ability to shatter glass with his voice, which he uses to cause a disruption whenever he is upset. Oskar uses his drum for similar purposes, such as disrupting a Nazi rally. During a visit to the circus, Oskar meets Bebra, a performing dwarf to whom Oskar can relate.

When Alfred, Agnes, Jan and Oskar are on an outing to the beach, they see an eel-picker at work collecting eels from a washed-up horse's head, a sight that makes Agnes repeatedly vomit. Alfred buys some of the eels, and a confrontation begins when he prepares them for dinner that night and insists that she eat them. His insensitivity causes her to become distraught, but when she retreats to the bedroom, Jan enters and comforts her with sex, all within earshot of Oskar who is hiding in the closet. She calmly emerges from the bedroom and returns to the table to eat Alfred's eels. Over the next few days she goes on binges with raw fish, constantly throwing up after these strange meals. Anna Bronski helps reveal that her fishy behavior is related to a worrisome pregnancy, one that is the product of her relations with Jan. In anger Agnes vows that the child will never be born, presumably because she is scared by the prospect of raising another child in wartime. Agnes dies, and the cause of her death is never clarified. At his mother's funeral, Oskar witnesses Sigismund Markus, the incredibly kind Jewish toymaker who supplies him with drums, who was also in love with Agnes, being told to leave the funeral because he is Jewish; Nazism is on the rise, and the Jewish and Polish residents of Danzig are under increasing pressure from the German community. Markus commits suicide during Kristallnacht, when his shop is attacked by SA men, and synagogues are burned down.

On 1 September 1939, Oskar, while looking for the Polish caretaker Kobyella, who can repair his drum, unwittingly leads Jan into the Polish Post Office, which is about to join an armed standoff against the SS by the Polish workers. During the battle, Kobyella is shot while fetching a new drum for Oskar, and Jan is wounded. They withdraw to the storeroom and play Skat until Kobyella eventually dies and the Germans capture the building. Oskar is taken home as Jan is arrested and eventually executed.

Despite the recent turbulence, Alfred's shop resumes business normally and he employs the fifteen-year-old Maria as housekeeper. Oskar seduces Maria, but is later irritated when he discovers Alfred having sex with her. Oskar breaks in and disrupts them, causing Maria to become intensely embarrassed and angry. Oskar tries to seduce her and she becomes even angrier. She and Oskar fight and he hits her in the stomach. She becomes pregnant and becomes Alfred's wife. Oskar also has a brief sexual relationship with Lina Greff, the wife of the local grocer and scoutmaster, who is later found hanged.

During World War II, Oskar comes across Bebra again, and he meets Roswitha, a new member of his troupe, which travels around to entertain the German troops. Oskar decides to join Bebra's team, using his glass-shattering voice as part of the act. Oskar and Roswitha begin a romantic affair which is cut short when she is killed by artillery fire during the Allied invasion of Normandy while on tour in France. After a lift back to Danzig with the team, Oskar bids farewell and returns home. Much of the city has been destroyed and the Russians are fast approaching. Oskar meets his now three-year-old son Kurt, to whom he gives a tin drum much like his own.

As the Russians finally enter the city, the family are hiding in the cellar when a group of Russian soldiers break in and gang-rape Lina. Alfred is killed by an Asiatic Red Army soldier after choking violently on his Nazi party pin in an attempt to swallow it. During Alfred's burial, for which cardboard boxes are fitted together to make a casket, Oskar decides that he will now grow up and throws his drum into Alfred's grave. As he does, Kurt throws a stone at his head and he is knocked unconscious and falls into the grave, a catalyst that causes him to start growing again. Soon afterwards, all of the family apart from Anna Bronski are deported from the city, which is to be occupied only by Poles. As the train leaves, the film ends as it begins; with Anna Bronski sitting in her potato field, watching the train go by.


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