The Lives of Others (2006) (R)
"The Lives of Others" is a film of anguish, obsession, control, and lies. It's about change and permanence. It's about surveillance. It's about history.
In the 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the governmental force of East Germany would listen to everything. They could track you down for being insubordinate, interrogate you, get a confession, and do the process over again. None was better at this process than Gerd Wiesler, a captain with an aptitude for extracting information from unwilling sources.
The movie's opening gives us an interrogation to think about. The thought of the government is that people in East Germany should stay there and by no means attempt to help one of their friends cross over to West Germany—an activity that is not allowed and is severely punishable.
Wiesler teaches his efficient methods of detecting liars. He notices body language, apprehensiveness, sympathy where there should be apathy, etc. etc.
Wiesler's college friend and supervisor (a man of lesser intelligence) Anton Grubitz is very fond of showing off Wiesler's talents for him. Grubitz is not afraid to suck up to whomever in order to get a promotion.
The two go out to a play one night, where Wiesler notices the playwright's arrogance and makes an offhand comment about how arrogant people are usually people with pliable allegiances. But this playwright, Georg Dreyman, is one of the East's brightest stars. His allegiance should never be doubted. Yet there seems to be some pattern with artists, including a director that used to work with Dreyman: one slip-up, one hint of insubordination and you're black-listed for the rest of your life. It's not like they kill you, but what is directing if you have nothing to direct? What is acting if you have nothing to act? What is writing if no one can read your words?
The totalitarian regime of East Germany is never romanticized, nor should it be.
Yet beneath all this chaos and tyranny, there is something that quite resembles humanity.
Wiesler suspects Dreyman of some fraternization with people that ought not be fraternized with. He suggests that Dreyman be put under complete supervision which he personally will monitor. Grubitz dismisses the idea, but later finds himself repeating his friend's words and receiving the praise of his over-seers.
So Dreyman goes under heavy surveillance, all for the sake of people giving and getting promotions.
Wiesler isn't satisfied that his idea is being carried out in such a nonchalant way. The truth doesn't matter unless it incriminates the right people.
"The Lives of Others" has a scene in it when two characters meet. They are enemies of ideals, fighting for opposite things. One of them comments that people never change. This scene, though it seems random amidst all the spying, prying, thrills, and chills is perhaps the best way to look at "The Lives of Others".
On one hand you have characters that prove that people never change. They remain selfish, they remain loyal, they continue in their beliefs. But these flat characters are the canvas on which change occurs. Other characters have complete revelations, they see the world through the unchanging loyalty, selfishness, and religion.
It's an incredibly well-written movie by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who has never quite reached the high-mark he left himself with this film.
The critical reception for "The Lives of Others" was staggering, and well-deserved. It took home an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and grabbed several BAFTA nominations.
Ulrich Mühe gives a blisteringly incredibly performance as Wiesler. You should never underestimate the power that a simple gesture can produce.
But even though all the actors of incredibly good, the film itself outshines all of them. It still remains unbelievably poignant, considering how the NSA has been getting into hot-water recently, we shouldn't forget movies like this.
To be fair, the movie isn't perfect and takes many, many liberties. Then again, the film proves that it doesn't have to have the crass tagline: "Inspired by a true story" to be magnificent entertainment. It's inspiring and terrible important.
A film that is essential.
Posted by Micah Jones