Certainly one of the most surreally disturbing films to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, the Palme d’Or recipient The Tin Drum is certainly an acquired taste. The film, directed by German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass’s celebrated novel of the same name that tells the tale of Oskar, a young boy repulsed by the hypocrisy of adulthood and refuses to grow older after his third birthday. He gets his wish, and spends his endless childhood incessantly pounding his beloved tin drum and shrieking as World War II worsens around him.
Characterised by its surrealism, eroticism and satirical nature, The Tin Drum is a disturbing and difficult watch. Clocking in at a staggering 163 minutes, the film is provocative and unapologetic with some truly grotesque content that gives the film an almost Lynchian feel. Packed with symbolism, the allegorical film asks a lot of the viewer – the film is, on the surface, utterly bizarre and incoherent. Similar to recent war drama The Painted Bird, The Tin Drum can often feel like something of an endurance test for the average viewer. And much like that later film, The Tin Drum was met with a very mixed reception that continues to this day. It is one of the most divisive films in cinema. Full of weird and wacky metaphors, awkward and uncomfortable underage sex scenes and the film’s ‘hero’ constantly beating his drum and screaming with such a piercing shriek that glass shatters around him, the film is near unwatchable at times.
But hey, your mileage may vary considerably. As with any symbolic and bizarre ‘art’ film, The Tin Drum has its passionate fanbase that shower the film in adulation at any given opportunity. And hey, it was deemed worthy of a release in the prestigious Criterion Collection, so there’s clearly an audience for it somewhere. But those of a squeamish or easily disturbed disposition will find it incredibly difficult to find any enjoyment in The Tin Drum, a dark and surreally harrowing three hours of a creepy man-child screaming.
Those who do appreciate The Tin Drum will be delighted with Criterion’s treatment, who have pulled out all the stops to offer the definitive release of the film. With a new and restored high-definition transfer of the complete version of the film approved by the director, newly remastered 5.1 surround track, interviews and a fascinating illustrated reading of an excerpt of the novel by author Grass, this is a packed and passionate entry in the Criterion Collection. But if this is your first time with The Tin Drum, might I suggest you tread lightly and do some research before you watch – it is one of the most disturbing and surreal films in cinema history.