The Lives of Others - German Movie Thriller that Stole My Heart
The Lives of Others is a 2007 movie, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, that I have been meaning to see. OMG I'm glad I did.
I was too young for the Berlin Wall falling to mean much to me. But this movie pretty much gets to the heart of the matter, and quickly. It's so easy to see the course of history as Germany was moving out of WWII, Nazis, etc., and into this oppressed East Germany. Scary stuff that conjures the McCarthy era in America, when artists, and really anybody, was at risk of being blacklisted for their art/ideas. Though things in America have never been as bad as they are in this movie for MOST people, it's not an impossibility (and some might argue it already happens). Phone tapping, being followed and under intense surveillance, being chased. This is like the Bourne Supremacy, only it's happening to a whole half a country, not just one guy. And this movie IS a thriller. I was gripping the edge of my couch by the end. No explosions or hanging off helicopters, but high stakes and terrific build-up.
What I loved most is the actor who portrays the Stasi officer, Wiesler. The Stasi are the "bad guys." In the first scene, he is so bloodless, automated and without compassion. Some of my favorite actors have the ability - how can i describe this? - to let their faces open up. To convey every moment in their eyes, in their mouths, in their very skin almost. And really when you think about it, they are just being authentic - taking in moments the way we all do, right then and there on camera. The amazing thing is that they do it "for pretend," not as themselves but absolutely as themselves. They react instead of act. I think Jeff Bridges is that way - just watch Crazy Heart.
Ulrich Muhe, who plays Wiesler, is just this type of actor. He is closed off in the beginning. His face is drawn, tense and he was scary and annoying to me in his strict adherence to the rules. And then he is assigned to spy on a theatre director and his actress girlfriend who are thought to be enemies of the state (of course, there is a large dose of government corruption and sex in the plot, which you will find out for yourself). As soon as he puts those headphones on to listen in, everything changes. There are so many small moments I want to give away, but it wouldn't be fair. I can say my favorite moment - hard to choose - is without words. Watching Muhe's face as he reads a play by Bertolt Brecht. His face opens in front of you. Suddenly, there is the face of man who is tender, wide-eyed and vulnerable. His face changes. I won't tell you how he happens to come by this book he is reading. It's all part of the shift inside him toward an openness of ideas, of passion and freedom. Or maybe it's not that grand. Maybe he is a man who was used to following rules but who found a personal connection that gave him reason to do what he does. Personal connection. Always the key to change. This theme speaks to me and to how I think especially now, in this moment in history, we must make our art, stand up for our passions and ideas and who we are.
Eh, nobody ever called me practical.
I have read a few reviews, and it's mentioned in the Wikipedia article, that say some people didn't like the idea of glorifying as a hero this Stasi officer who had grossly mistreated people in his past. But he does not change the world. He doesn't stop every bad thing from happening. None of us are that powerful or that magnificent because it always takes lots of small actions to create big and lasting change. I found much to love about the idea that one "bad" man can have a change of heart - just his own little heart - and stop doing the things that hurt people. Because no revolution is fought by the revolutionaries alone, not ultimately. Those brave fighters are the ones who sacrifice and put the ball in motion, but they fight to change hearts and minds. To create long and lasting change in all the small ways and the big ones. Brings to my mind Libya, Bahrain, Egypt - right now, today. My thoughts are with those people. I hope I could be as brave if it came to it.
I know subtitles can put some people off, but German is so interesting to listen to and syncs up with English in certain words and phrases because the two languages have the same origin. I love that. But even if you don't, this movie is SO much about what you can see in a face. It's quiet. But striking. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen).