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Literature / The Tin Drum

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The first part of the Danzig Trilogy by Günter Grass, The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel) is a 1959 novel. It is narrated by Oskar Matzerath, a dwarf of questionable sanity.

Oskar was born in 1924, in the Free City of Danzig. On Oskar's third birthday, he refused to grow up and turn into a miserable adult. Because of this, he remains a boy throughout most of his life. Along his travels, he watches the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and discovers that eternal youth is not all that it's cracked up to be. He narrates his story from within a mental hospital, where he is confined c. 1952-1954.

The Film of the Book was released in 1979, covering the first two books. While plans were made to film a sequel to complete the story, it never came to pass. The movie follows Oskar from his birth until after the end of World War II and the Soviet invasion where he finally decides to grow up, and stars David Bennent as Oskar, Mario Adorf as his father Alfred, and Angela Winkler as his mother Agnes. The film attained controversy in both Ontario and Oklahoma, due to the belief that it depicted child pornography. The cases were both quickly overruled, however.

Tropes found in both the book and the film:

  • Adults Are Useless: Oskar seems to think so. He's right for the most part, too.
  • Enfant Terrible: Oskar uses his childlike appearance to execute his will at the expense of his family.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Oskar's screaming can break glass.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Although Oskar initially throws himself down the stairs to stop himself ageing, he forces himself to start again in his twenties.
  • Karmic Death: Alfred Matzerath chokes on his own NSDAP badge.
  • Kissing Cousins: Agnes and Jan Bronski.
  • Love Triangle: Between Matzerath, Agnes and Jan.
  • Magical Realism: Singing marks onto glass, Oskar just choosing to not grow up, the "Drumming Jesus"-miracle, etc....
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Oskar admits he has no idea whether Jan or Alfred is his father.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The book/film feature the protagonist as a young boy who decides to stop himself from growing any older than seven. He observes the violent events of World War II from a child's perspective, beating his toy drum.
  • Never Found the Body: Oskar's grandfather may or may not have avoided drowning and started a new and successful life in America.
  • Never Grew Up: Oskar throws himself down the stairs to effect this.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Until his growth spurt, Oskar pretends to be on the mental level of a three year old, matching his physique.
  • Pyromaniac: Oskar's grandfather, politically motivated.
  • Refusal of the Call: Jan Bronski intentionally was far away from his working place at the Polish post office when the siege by the Nazis started, and only returned reluctantly, after meeting Oskar.
  • Super-Scream: Oskar has the ability to shatter or mark glass with his voice.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: One of Oskar's presumable fathers joins the NSDAP.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Oskar endangering Jan Bronski's life, only to get a new drum. And indeed it all ends in Jan's execution! Also the stalking and near-rape of Nurse Dorothea.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The idea is kicked around a bit.

The book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Art Shift: One chapter in Book Two reads like a script for a stage play. The purpose may be an intentional Mood Whiplash: Said chapter ends with Wehrmacht soldier Lankes shooting a group nuns.
  • Cultured Warrior: Lankes, a Wehrmacht soldier who decorates bunkers with ornaments and becomes an artist after the war.
  • Pals with Jesus: Oskar talks to both God and the Devil. It's not supposed to be taken literally, but whether Oskar is being metaphorical or is just that crazy is up for debate.
  • Stalker Shrine: Actually more like Stalker Relic: Oskars prays to Nurse Dorothea's severed finger.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Oskar is this towards Nurse Dorothea.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The movie is more straightforward but in the book, it's implied on occasion that Oskar just made up all this stuff, being not entirely sane. It doesn't help that he is telling us this story while in an asylum.

The film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Art Shift: The first part of the Nazi rally—before Oscar shows up and disrupts it—is shot in a kind of washed-out, muted color scheme that recalls old Technicolor newsreels.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Oskar's grandfather Joseph is shown doing this in the scene where Oskar imagines him as a rich industrialist in America.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and closes with scenes of Oskar's grandmother roasting potatoes in a field.
  • The Film of the Book: Won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1979. It was also highly praised at Cannes.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Oskar catches his mother doing this with her cousin Jan, which is part of what convinces him to decide to never grow up.
  • Invisible President: When Hitler takes his triumphant parade through Danzig in 1939, the camera is poised over his shoulder so all we see of him is his arm stretched forward in salute.
  • Left Hanging:
    • The film ends rather abruptly, with Oskar deciding to finally grow up just before he and his family are sent out of Danzig as part of the mass post-war deportation of Germans. As noted above, the second movie was never made.
    • The death of Oskar's mother is never explained, nor is her sudden obsession with fish before her death (though the latter is implied to be because of her pregnancy).
  • P.O.V. Cam: A rather disturbing one that follows Oskar as he is born, with camera shots simulating progress through the birth canal.
  • Stocking Filler: A little fanservice as Agnes takes off her stockings at the beach.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Roswitha leaves the safety of the van to go get some coffee in the middle of a bombing. Unsurprisingly, she's killed.