Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archive: "The Lives of Others" (2007)

When "The Lives of Others" won for Best Foreign Language Film over "Pan's Labyrinth" at the Academy Awards, I was anything but pleased. Now having actually seen the award-winning German film, my opinion has shifted dramatically. "The Lives of Others" is just as deserving, if not even more so. It's a taut thriller and a powerful psychological drama with a deep political and moral message. This is a truly great film.

A gray-haired balding man sits in a dark, dusky attic listening to something through bulky headphones. He is quiet with a pale face and dull expressions. He wears a gray jacket zipped up tight with sharp and uniform edges, like something a professional would wear. This man is a professional by the name of Capt. Gert Wiesler. He works for the Ministry for State Security as a domestic surveillance specialist. His codename is HGW XX/7, and he is listening in on somebody's life that is not his own. "The Lives of Others" starts in 1984 in East Germany, otherwise the German Democratic Republic. Wiesler is one of many, many anonymous secret police employed by the Stasi. Their goal is to keep track of any suspicious people and generally keep tabs on German citizens.

The specific man under surveillance is a playwright named Georg Dreyman, and consequently, his girlfriend actress named Christa-Maria Sieland. At the premiere of their play, Wiesler takes an immediate interest in the lives of these two people. It's not necessarily because Dreyman is a possible subversive, but more so because of his own dark fascination; he is nearly envious of Dreyman's situation with his lover. Included in the plan is the Minister of Culture who has his eye on Christa-Maria for most unsavory reasons; she is forced to obey only in order to keep her career. Almost immediately, Wiesler completely wires Dreyman's apartment. He sets up his station in the attic of their complex and keeps constant surveillance on them with daily reports.

Wiesler is dedicated and loyal to his job at first, but soon, his perspective starts to shift. An experience at work and maybe even a small encounter with a young boy in an elevator provokes these feelings of his. He gets more and more involved with the life of Georg and Christa to the point where his devotion makes a total transformation. He becomes a guardian for them rather than an intruder. One might think that "The Lives of Others" would base its plot progression around the couple and their "subversive" activities; ones that warrant for them to be caught and apprehended. This isn't the case, however, as the story bases itself more around the anonymous gray-haired balding man and his growing involvement.

Wiesler watches, catches on to something, and reacts; he wants to create something, and initiates confrontation for the people he is watching by simply sparking some wires to make a doorbell ring. It's at this single moment that Wiesler emotional attachment has taken hold and his professional outlook has cracked apart. Throughout the movie, Dreyman doesn't realize he is ever being watched to the point that he's bringing friends over claiming his apartment is completely bug-free; however, the audience knows otherwise, and it creates for a persistently tense and nerve-racking affair. It carries that ominous sensation of just knowing these people are being watched second by second.

I've already said too much about "The Lives of Others" and have probably already given too much away. Therefore, I won't go any further. This is an experience you must see for yourself; it's an experience made up of excellent pacing and timing, strong performances, vivid characters and development, and affecting individual scenes that convey meaning without hardly any spoken words. The movie ends on the perfect, uplifting note, as well. It reminds people what it was like when that Berlin Wall finally did get torn down and also proves the film's brilliant human transcendence for anybody who bravely sets out to see it.

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