Monday, March 05, 2007

The Lives of Others

I just watched this German film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It has an interesting story. Without giving too much away the story is set in East Germany or GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the 1980s before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The totalitarian state routinely spies on its own citizens, encourages confessions for "crimes against the state", and jails people at will. Needless to say it was a dark period in Germany’s history.

An agent, Hauptmann (Left), working for the Stasi or East German secret police has been assigned to wiretap a playwright, Dreyman, to look for incriminating evidence that will put the artist away for the "good of the state". However as Hauptmann's mission progresses and he listens in to every intimate detail in Dreyman's life, he begins to empathise with the unsuspecting Dreyman...

What I liked about the movie is the depiction of hypocrisy of a dictatorship that calls itself a democratic republic. The ideals and values of socialism are perverted and abused by the rulers over the ruled. Suicide statistics are state secrets, and harmless jokes about the party chairman can jeopardize the career of civil servants. There is no freedom and human rights... in other words it is a sad and ridiculous state of affairs. At times I find myself with a knowing smile, I guess dictatorship comes in all forms but its traits are universal.

Early on in the movie there is this dialogue between the Cultural Minister and Dreyman where the Minister tells Dreyman to "write whatever he wants, bcos people's mind won't be changed so easily". He then promptly puts Dreyman under secret surveillance. Dreyman too believes that people won't be changed so easily, but his belief stems purely from having faith in humanity, almost naively if you ask me. The great sadness here is that they are both right. At one end the dictatorial state doesn't trust the people and believes in the worst possible, and they are not wrong – see how swiftly the wall crumbled overnight. At the other end those like Dreyman are too trusting... maybe bcos faith is the only thing they have got. Meanwhile the majority of the people in between just don’t care and this allows the dictatorship to carry on. People like Hauptmann, a kind of anti-hero, does not exist in real life. Most people are seduced too easily by money or material rewards, while people like Dreyman are just too few to make a difference. It is depressing if you think about it.

But it is only a movie, and quite a good one too. I recommend it!

No comments: