Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Movie Night: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others -- "Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany's Secret Police Listened to Your Secrets"

I picked this movie a couple of weeks ago for our movie night because Rush Limbaugh recently recommended it as something for everyone to see, especially younger people (but not too young since it's rated R) If you've reached a certain age you remember all the stuff about communism/socialism, the movies, the stories, the books that were around during the Cold War. But today's young people, apparently, don't have anything like that so they don't really have a good sense of what it would be like to live under socialism. That's why Rush recommended the film.

It's a German film, in German with subtitles. Mostly I don't like subtitles, because they're distracting, but in this movie they worked okay for me. The Lives of Others won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 2006 (so you'll have to look for it in the foreign films section of your local Blockbuster). It's about living in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. It's about how the people are watched all the time and monitored and how if you don't toe the party line, they will ruin you. It was very well done.

Internet Movie Database summarizes the plot thus: "In the early 1980s, the successful dramatist Georg Dreyman and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland, a popular actress, are big intellectual stars in the socialist state, although they secretly don't always think loyal to the party line. One day, the Minister of Culture becomes interested in Christa, so the secret service agent Wiesler is instructed to observe and sound out the couple, but their life fascinates him more and more..." Except it was really Georg the Minister of Culture wanted observed, in hopes of finding something incriminating so he could have Christa to himself. And part of the reason their life fascinates Wiesler is because his own is so dry and sterile.

I liked it quite a bit. It was very thought provoking. In some ways it reminded me of Equilibrium (Christian Bale), but without the action -- though that lack did not make it any less engrossing. It shares with Equilibrium the theme of one of the enforcers coming to see the evil of the system he's supposed to enforce and the value of freedom. In fact, one of the movie's claims is that Socialist East Germany had the second highest suicide rate in Europe the year the government decided to stop counting suicides. I don't know if that's true or not, but it wouldn't surprise me.

The film reminded me that people are sinners and sinners who have ultimate power are going to abuse it. It reminded me of how awful it would be live under such a system, precisely at a time when it seems with each passing day our country draws closer and closer to doing just that. A recent commentary in Pravda, which offers Russian news and analysis, observed, "the American decent into Marxism is happening with breath taking speed, against the back drop of a passive, hapless sheeple, excuse me dear reader, I meant people." The writer has some interesting, if crudely expressed, ideas on why, including a dumbed-down educational system, self-absorption and loss of religious standards.

One additional reason I've recently been given cause to consider (in Bible class, actually) is the fact that some people don't really want freedom. They prefer being told what to do, because then they don't have to worry about failing. They have security and that's all they want. To eat and drink and watch their TV or movies or play their games. And that seems like enough.

But of course it's not.