David Bennent plays Oskar, the young son of a Kashubian family in a rural area of the Free City of Danzig, circa 1925. On his third birthday, Oskar receives a shiny new tin drum. At this point, rather than mature into one of the miserable specimens of grown-up humanity that he sees around him, he vows never to get any older or any bigger. Whenever the world around him becomes too much to bear, the boy begins to hammer on his drum; should anyone try to take the toy away from him, he emits an ear-piercing scream that literally shatters glass. As Germany degenerates towards Nazism and war in the 1930s and 1940s, the unageing Oskar continues savagely beating his drum.
The film features a scene in which Bennent, then 11 years old and playing a stunted 16-year-old, appears to perform oral sex on a 16-year-old girl (played by actress Katharina Thalbach, who was 24 years old at the time).
Similarly, on June 25, 1997, following a ruling made by State District Court Judge Richard Freeman, who had reportedly only viewed a single isolated scene of the film, The Tin Drum was banned from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, citing the state's obscenity laws for portraying underage sexuality. All copies in Oklahoma City were likewise confiscated and at least one person who had rented the film on video tape was threatened with prosecution. Michael Camfield, leader of a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the police department on July 4, 1997, alleging that the tape had been illegally confiscated and his rights infringed.
This led to a high-profile series of hearings on the film's merits as a whole versus the controversial scene, and the role of the judge as censor. The film emerged vindicated and most copies were returned within a few months.