The Dimensions of parent-child conflicts in “Toni Erdmann (German Film)”

Subject: Art
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 9
Word count: 2371
Topics: Film Analysis, Film Review, Parenting


Maren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann chronicles a father Winfried who pulls practical prank jokes in order to catch the attention her career working and busy daughter Ines. Winfried does not get to see Ines as often as he would wish because she is always away trying to finalize on her job and beating deadlines of the project reports. The movie is a depiction of a modern-day world where individuals are immersed in their daily routines and careers that they forget about the family setting and its significances. The prevalent theme that the producer exposes is parenthood, collision between father and daughter and career abduction. Although the film uses humorous scenes to illustrate how Winfried tries to reunite with Ines for her to return home, the father-daughter relationship and conflicts, are among the common aspects that the producer portrays in the film through the rusty relationship between Winfried and his daughter Ines.

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A couple of common themes of conflict between parents and adult children emerge in the film namely: Communication and interaction style and Work habits and orientations.

Communication and Interaction Style

Communication and interaction style typically reflects conflicts that concern the manner in which an individual communicates with others, mainly inside the family network. Unrealized expectations seem to be the basis of countless studies, which reflect concerns about contact and communication. A common complaint is that communication is usually non-existent or strained. Communication conflicts are illustrated in following ways. Firstly, some studies explain the conflicts that arise due to style of communication employed. One study suggests the inability of parents to communicate and air their feelings rationally as a source of conflict. Segrin Chris depicts that many individuals complain of lack of symmetry in communication between parent-aging child relationship and the inability of parents as well as aging-children to discuss issues that may arise is a common disturbing part of these relationships (Page 5).

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Lack of contact with each other is also a subtheme of conflict that arises due to communication and interaction style used between parents and aging children. Some studies suggest that both adult children and parents report feelings of alienation and abandonment. In the studies, many parents stated that their aging children for several years, never attempted to visit them or spend little or no time with them.

Work Habits and Orientation

Work habits and orientation of an individual is another factor that leads to conflicts within a parent-aging-child relationship. Numerous studies conducted on depression-age parents and their children born in post-world war II period suggest that they both have dissimilar work norms and perspectives on the future. Many parents worry that their children work too hard, which in turn limits their contact with family. It is common for career attainments of adult children to outstrip those of their parents since individuals have become increasingly educated in addition to being better off financially (Segrin 5). Dissimilarities in ever-increasing occupational attainment can lead to difficult misunderstanding. Many adult children complain about their parents’ lack of understanding of their work and the expectations of the companies. The lack of understanding may be attributed to a parent’s own work experience in a dissimilar era, yet often it is found that these conflicts exemplify a parent’s more definite work ethic.

Toni Erdmann film vanquishes the lazy stereotype that depicts German humor. The comedy directed by Maren Ade is a bittersweet story concerning lack of communication and contact in parent-child relationship. Initial impressions indicate that the audience is headed down the quite well known awful road of the strained parent child relationship. The serial prankster Winfried Conradi is a rather foolish but warm personality who lives for amuse yet the relationship that he has with his daughter Ines, who briefly visits before going back to Romania for work, has detectably cooled. However, once he opts to visit her daughter without notice as an alter ego Toni Erdmann, the movie takes a relaxed life of its own. Kitted with a messy dark wig and with fake teeth, Conradi succeeds in putting forward a man whose clownish cuddly charm hides and his deep loneliness (Levin 1).

In Toni Erdmann movie, communication between Winfried and Ines is strained and almost non-existent. Winfried desperately tries to get Ines’s attention through pranks instead of just talking to her and discussing issues like normal parents. Lack of communication and the style of communication employed-pranks is a major source of conflict in their relationship. Just a few days after reconnecting, father and daughter struggle to get along. This makes Winfried feel unwanted and alienated and opts to leave for the airport before returning as Toni Erdmann.

Winfred soon invades every facet of Ines despondent expat life as she spends most days and nights frantically trying to satisfy her bosses’ wishes while surviving the sexiest onslaught she endures as a career-driven woman in a stifling corporate world. Both try to heal their relationship using an intervention that makes her re-analyze her career. Winfred desperately fumbles through most of his endeavors to connect with his daughter as his tricks spin out of control and Ines finds her personal and professional life colliding. The central idea of Winfred adopting an alter ego is to reach out to and to communicate to her daughter.

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Toni Erdman film is filled with fear of the direction, in which Europe is taking now: mainly of what Germany is quickly becoming.  The country is quickly picking values that are becoming widespread in Europe alongside the Euro, that of moral sacrifices and compromises of human dignity that go hand in hand with high-degree modernization such as high profits and common citizens fighting to keep up (Kermode, N. p). The film takes a look of Europe’s follies and fractures through an individual’s story that remains as impersonal and schematic as a position paper. On one level, the film can be seen as a scornful satire on Europe in addition to as a warning with regard to depersonalizing outcomes of modernization. Yet whilst such socioeconomic subtexts are rarely hidden, it is in the personal father and narrow-minded daughter that the actual firework happens (Wilkinson, N. p).

It does require a rather dystopian type of doublethink for a corporation to commemorate how hard and constantly its workers ought to work to make a living, given that the corporations are themselves making the terms (Freer, n. p). Yet this kind of faux-inspirational story has been appearing more in recent years, in corporate world.  At the root of this is the modern obsession with self-reliance, which makes it even more acceptable to applaud a person for working him or herself to death than arguing that a person working that hard is proof a flawed economic system. The difference between the gig economy’s rhetoric and the conditions that permit to exist, make this kink in the individuals thinking particularly clear.

Human-interest tales regarding the beauty of some individual standing up to the punishment of late capitalism is frequent in the news too (Freer, N.  p). The story is often written as a tearjerker full of praise for the individual’s uncomplaining attitude. The film even mentions Bucharest’s famed nightlife and Romanians are painted as warm and welcoming villagers who look up to foreigners as if they are “Jesus”-the eager help and who truthfully believe that only through hard work and dedication one can be noticed

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Toni Erdmann is an uneasy film of estrangement coupled with easy digs at the foolishness of work-life balance and finance class (Freer, N. p). Its cynical professional striving and cynical comedy depicts corporate homogeneity in the modern world that feels too common for a while, defined by social snobs, meticulous eaters, ugly-chic pool bars, and business card – exchanging networkers.  The film dismantles themes of corporate greed, family estrangement, and sexism, which is a common feature in the modern world.

Toni Erdmann reflects the producer’s reaction to the alienation of that is apparent in today’s human society and the ever-elusive search for power, which is typically identified by money. Ines, the key character in the film is an introverted workaholic businessperson. A consultant for oil companies, which outsource their work, she works in Romania far from her a father, a divorced and lonely music teacher.

Ines as learnt to repress her emotions to live and even in bed she does not let herself go. In fact, she has perfected the art of manipulation. She manipulates men in her life with ease. Her ever-busy life does not leave her any space for empathy or affection. This also applies for her relationship with her dad, Winfried who comes from the generation of 68’ and thinks that another world is achievable. Consequently, the dad seeks shelter from the untamed capitalistic world by creating an alter ego. When he puts on funny tooth dentures and dons a wig, he can act freely.

Ines, mindful that an ambitious woman has no time for personal pleasures, converts a fling with a co-worker into sexual competitiveness that would make her father blush. Toni Erdmann, eager to sweet-talk his daughter out of existential indolence, leads the couple unbidden into an orthodox Easter celebrations stating that her daughter is personal assistant. Winfred intends to embarrass Ines into authenticity but has no idea what he is about to get into. The daughter seizes the moment and turns a spontaneous musical performance into a playfully intricate unburdening one as the love songs become both a sharp ballad of self-reliance and thorny condemnation of millennial entitlement (Freer, N. p).

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The film seems to take long to let the audience know these individual held together by tremendous natural performances. The expansive running gives room to make cutting satiric points. The film is devastatingly wise about modernization, the generation gap that exists between parents and children and how difficult it is to bridge it. A father’s joke can only take one so far (Freer, N. p).

Maren Ade commentates on the generation gap with scenes, which are sad and funny at the same time. Ade delivers the message through the imagery character. In some instances, she employs the tones of slapstick or brusque and puts her characters in uncomfortable situations so that the viewer may comprehend their mutual humiliation and loneliness. Toni Erdmann puts across a rather realistic portrait of contemporary society where individuals have lost their joy for life, natural feelings and where sexism in the place of work is accepted without any question, where poetic escapes and romanticism have no place (Freer, N. p).

Maren’s way of employing humor in the film ought to have been motivated by the Brechtian approach, which does not permit the audience to identify with characters, giving hints to a better comprehension of the world. Even in the most comical moments of the film, gives the spectators the chance to think (Freer, N. p). The film is a romantic drama and a social satire that comments on father-daughter relationship in the contemporary world. Maren Ade discards sentimentalism in all scenes by employing comic elements shunning identification and leading to estrangement.

Winfried uses his alter ego to put across his anarchic outlook of the society, similar to Shakespeare’s utilization of double characters in a number of his plays. For instance, in “Comedy of Error”, the main character wears a big fur coat that resembles King Kong to put across her feeling for her daughter (Freer, N. p). Different animals are also used Ade’s film to underline the audience separation from nature and their wish to turn to nature. In fact, the use of different animals in film from bears to wolfs, not mention insects, birds or cats is a distinctive common element in numerous films. Art direction and direction of actors in the film is marvelous. The performances of Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek and those in supporting roles strengthen Maren Ade’s interpretation of the contemporary world.  The director tells her story in an uncomplicated but beautifully crafted style. She depicts the characters in detail and makes the audience believe the changes Ines undergoes.

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The film clearly takes the audience through a strange relationship between an estranged father, his alter ego and a daughter. The film is certainty not afraid to embrace the weird and is innately sweet and frequently a moving picture to which parents can go the distance to keep in contact with their children. This is seen Conradi surprises his daughter at her workplace and sticks around for some time and comes back in the guise of a motivational speaker (Toni) with a commitment to understand and assist his daughter as he could not while being himself. The film defies simple characterization: there numerous scenes characterized by silent tension between daughter and father, and others that involve amusing comedy. There is a strange sensibility underpinning it all that is concurrently grounded in reality (Levin, n. p).

Toni Erdmann is built on bombastic pieces, witty dialogue, and great performances. The film focuses on a relationship of a father who attempts to reconnect with his daughter. The producer of the film does a great job of creating absurdity in pedestrian scenery of a white-collar workplace. Conradi, a music teacher stays with his mother, his dog and his satirical sense of humor for company (Levin 1).  He pesters deliverymen by scaring them with bomb threats and by telling them that he has been hired by an old people home to scare ill individuals to death. The jokes are just a cover up for a rather lonely interior that yearns for his distant daughter. Ines is the complete difference of her father: she is pragmatic, ambitious and sober.

The film greatly shifts between drama and comedy. In one scene, Ines is obligated to sing a Whitney Houston’s song in a full of individuals she does not know. The lyrics are so off and her singing is so over the top that an individual cannot fail to laugh. However, when Ines does not go along with her father’s silly lifestyle, Winfried’s disappointment is obvious (Nigel, N. p). The producer deserves credit for seamlessly marrying conflicting themes that accurately show the audience the true nature of parent-child relationship in the film. Ines and Winfried act as great foils to one another.

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  1. Brody, Richard. “A Stilted Vision of a Declining Europe in “Toni Erdmann.” The New Yorker. Web, 2016
  2. Freer, Ian. “Toni Erdmann Review.” The EmpireLine. Web, 2016
  3. Kermode, Mark. “Toni Erdmann Review-talk about embarrassing parents…” The Guardian. Web, 2017
  4. Levin, Robert. ‘Toni Erdmann’ tackles the strong bond of parenthood.’ AmNewYork. Web, 2016
  5. Nigel, Andrews. “Toni Erdmann: German comedy rich with meaning and revelation.The Financial Times. Web, 2017,
  6. Wilkinson, Alissa. “Toni Erdmann is a 3-hour German film about modernizing Europe. It’s also one of the year’s best comedies.” Web, 2016,
  7. Segrin, Chris, et al. “The association between over parenting, parent‐child communication, and entitlement and adaptive traits in adult children.” Family Relations 61.2 (2012): 237-252.
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