Before the Wall Fell
“Coming Out” was a very important film because it was made in East Germany before the reunification—it is probably the only film made by a communist country that deals with homosexuality. It is also important because those that came out were forced to live in a society under a chaotic mentality because of the ruling regime. It also shows us a world that caused us to both sympathize and empathize with the circumstances of the gay population. In East Germany, although communist, homosexuality was not illegal but it was ignored.
We have a man struggling to accept his identity until he finally does accept himself emotionally as gay. He was afraid of himself and had no idea how to cope. Philipp, our hero, had once had an unconsummated relationship with a schoolmate but he panicked and ended it. We meet him when he is a high school teacher and on the brink of a relationship with a woman named Tanja. Tanja introduces him to a friend of hers who just happens to be Philipp’s own school pal. With the introduction, questions about his sexuality again come to the fore and he begins to put them in check by visiting a gay bar where he meets Mathias and the two are smitten with each other.
Philipp has a look of innocence about himself and we watch as he begins to be more honest with himself about what he wants even if he is not honest with those around him. Because of this he hurts those who love him.
As a cultural and historical reminder of the ways things were this is a wonderful film and the fact that the movie has no ending exemplifies the Brechtian idea that the common man in his won community has no end. There is no happy ending for gay men in communist countries but Philipp has learned not to allow himself to be suppressed by society. The fact that the movie takes place in a society that is a police state makes the film that much more significant. It shows how much we, as Americans, take for granted. There is one scene that should strike a chord with everyone—remember the first time you went into a gay bar? That same self-consciousness and anxiety is shown in the film. The movie is now almost twenty years old and it is stunning in that it comes to terms with sexual identity in a society that does not allow for difference. Since it was released just months before the wall came down, we can feel some hope for those East Germans who in a short time would be free to basically do as they pleased. But the reality of the film is the way it deals with the fear and anguish associated with coming out which exists no matter the location.
“Coming Out” is unlike any other gay-themed film because of the paranoia, the seriousness and the lack of color in East Berlin as well as the illicitness of homosexuality there. There are echoes of what was once, before the rise of communism, but it is little more than an echo. The atonal soundtrack adds to the angst the men suffer in attempting to come to terms with themselves. It is a bold film in the way it shows the unjust treatment of homosexuals as a marginalized group in society. The issues in the film are heavy but the film itself has a light mood. It is entertaining and the presentation of the sex scenes is clear and well done. We do not just see lust but emotion as well. As it attempts to show how to understand and value one’s own sexuality, it reminds us of some of the very things many of us went through and is a wonderful way for those who are anxious and unsure about how to accept themselves. This is not a new story but its relevance cannot be pushed aside.