Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Film review - "Life of others"

Well, it was over a year since my wife and I have been trying to see the German film "Life of others"("Das Leben der Anderen") but it was well worth the wait. This is a very poignant film that shows the nature of the East German regime but also examines where is the breaking point of every man, how much personal indecency can one swallow.

The plot goes around the East German Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler. Besides being an experianced interrogator and investigator he is also a teacher in the Stasi academy. He is being told of a promising playwright Georg Dreyman wh, in spite of being read in the west is still considered loyal. Wiesler, a career agent, expresses his doubts about him and soon gets the assignement of tracking him. As time goes by it becomes clear that Wiesler was wrong about Dreyman since the latter, in spite of trying to intervene on behalf of some black-listed people, does not hold any anti-communist or subversive ideas. Wiesler then finds out that he was only given the assignement because one minister has a personal interest in destroying Dreyman and that he has to find something "crooked" at all costs. It is then that Wiesler begins to question himself, his work and the whole system he serves.

The film shows just how un-naturally paranoid the whole system of East Germany was, so paranoid it ends up alienating not only people who are otherwise not at all interested in opposing it but also people who are sympathetic to it and even it's supposed guardians. The acting is superb by the entire cast but also the atmosphere of mid 1980-ties East Germany is captured perfectly especially in scenes that show the streets and public places almost completely devoid of people. The unscrupulousness and cynicism of East German security authorities is a classic now.

But there is also another thing, a scene happening two years after the fall of the Berlin wall that had quite an effect on me. This may be a bit of a spoiler, so stop reading if you haven't seen the movie. Dreyman walks out of a performance of his play, obviously dissatisfied with it and meets the former East German minister that tried to set him up. The latter confronts him with the fact that he hasn't written anything since 1989 and says: "No wonder, there is nothing to write about anymore. In the old days you could at least fight against the governement. Life was good in our small republic, people only see it now."

The worst part of this line is that it is correct. The fall of the eastern block brought about proclamations of the "end of history". In such atmosphere all social struggle practically stops and the emergence of general mediocricy and fatalistic apathy is inevitable. In such conditions all creativity and critical thinking dies . The minister's line perfectly captures the malaise of the modern world and why it can not grasp some truth seen as self-evident.

Be sure not to miss this movie. It's propably out of theaters by now but renting or buying a DVD copy is a must.

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