Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lives of Others

Every now and again you see a truly great film. I had the fortune of seeing one such film on Sunday - The Lives of Others.

It is an extraordinary film in so many ways. For those of you who don't know it (and, as a heads up, there are spoilers ahead), it tells the story of a couple in East Germany who fall under the watchful, malevolent glare of the Stasi. It then depicts the slow unravelling of one of the main characters, and the malign methods used by both the Stasi and by Communist government ministers to achieve what they want.

This genre of film - dealing with totalitarian regimes - often lends itself (understandly) to dwelling on the brutality and emotional hysteria attached to life under a dictatorship. The Lives of Others does not take that route at all. The *crimes* against the state are very minor - taking unprescribed prescription drugs, writing an article about the hidden suicide stats - rather than this being a tale of revolutionaries trying to bring down the nation. The methods of the Stasi are more underhand and psychological than physically abusive or sadistic. And the end of the film - when a Stasi officer realises that sacrificing his career to protect the man he was spying on has been realised and subtly, but very publicly, acknowledged - is played out in a clever, moving and utterly fitting way.

However what was most striking for me was just how the Communist state was depicted. The film steered well clear of the cliched view of totalitarian companies so often shown on the big screen. Rather, life in the former East Germany was shown to be grim. Whatever freedoms were on display could be revoked at any time by the state, and there were gross government ministers who had absolutely no issue with using and abusing their power to settle grudges, break people and get laid. Finally, the Stasi operated completely without compunction - they were happy to invade people's homes, search those properties destructively over and over again, and bribe and blackmail just about anyone to achieve what they wanted to achieve. Betrayal and broken people were depicted as the norm under this Communist regime, not the exception. And the state came across as far more nightmarish as a result.

The Lives of Others is definitely worth watching - both as an example of excellent film making, but also as a reminder of how grim life is under a totalitarian and dictatorial state, and why every failure by the government in their attempts to expand their powers should be celebrated.

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At 11:34 pm , Blogger Deft said...

A bloody fantastic film indeed. Even for those of an apolitical sway, it is still a brilliant piece of film.


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