The Lives of Others

Ages ago, I read a very positive review by John Podhoretz of the German film The Lives of Others, and added it to my Netflix queue. This week I finally watched it, and I thought it was outstanding.

The Lives of Others is set in East Germany in 1984.  Its theme is the evil of communism, but unlike some other films, it is not about the large-scale atrocities of communism such as the purges of Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. Rather, it is about the everyday oppression that characterized life under the party’s boot.

The film tells the story of two men, Georg Dreyman, a successful playwright, and Hauptmann Wiesler, a Stasi agent.  Wiesler, an instructor at the Stasi school for interrogation, is assigned to monitor Dreyman. Wiesler’s team installs bugs in Dreyman’s home and monitors them night-and-day.  Wiesler, however, becomes disillusioned when he learns that the reason he is monitoring Dreyman is not to protect the socialist state, but because the minister of culture is infatuated with Dreyman’s girlfriend and wishes to remove him as a rival.  Wiesler decides to try to help Dreyman by filing false surveillance reports and by interfering in his life in subtle ways (such as making him aware of the minister’s designs on his girlfriend). Unfortunately, the minister does not give up easily.

The Lives of Others is not my usual sort of fare (it has no action whatsoever), but I highly recommend it.

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