Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Lives of Others



Among the more interesting films I've seen recently is The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), a German film released in 2006 by first-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

The story is set during the time when Germany was still divided into the East and West. The East was communist; the West was predominantly democratic. The communist rule prevented any form of protest against the government, and at that time, routine surveillance of suspected people—usually those who propagated democratic ideologies opposed to the regime—was faithfully carried out. Say a bad word against the system, and you'd surely get locked in jail.

Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is a playwright who pretends to support the regime. Suspicions eventually arise, and Stasi Stabshauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is assigned to bug Dreyman's home. He listens for hours to conversations, taking careful note of words that may implicate the playwright to rebellion, to the point to recording miscellaneous activities like sexual intercourse and bed times. It's a thankless job, but Wiesler does it passionately.

As Wiesler listens in, he realizes that the German communist rule is not devoid of abuses: powerful generals can take any woman they like; artists are robbed of their right to self-expression; people are killed and interrogated for the slightest suspicions. The film is subtle in its attempt to show Wiesler's transformation from a hard-core supporter of communism to a believer of democracy.

The film is depressing for the most part—it is quiet, cold, and joyless—but it ends with an inspiring scene, something that made me tear up a little. It made me realize that if you believe in something, you must stand up for it, whatever the cost may be. The rewards may or may not come, but you will be comforted with the peace that comes with a quiet conscience in having done what you were supposed to.

And the reward—Wiesler's reward—is priceless.

(Here's Kuya John Dasmarinas' interesting take on the film).

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