28 May 2007

The Lives of Others

I saw a great movie over the weekend, The Lives of Others, or as it is originally titled in German, Das Leben der Anderen. It is truly a superb movie about life in the former GDR (East Germany) just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It depicts the intimidating power of a state with an information and control fetish via the state secret police, or Stasi.

Every aspect of this film, from writing and directing, through acting and editing, are superb. It captures the look and feel of the era, from the 1950s-drab architecture (even though the story is set - ironically - in 1984) to the 1950s-drab Stasi officials. The "subversive" artists and intelligensia feel more contemporary, trapped in the time warp, resisting their subjugation through life-affirming art, music, acting and sex (the comparison made especially stark when contrasted with the main Stasi protagonist, Weisler's, perfunctory engagement with a prostitute).

What struck me, though, was the unavoidable comparison with contemporary nation-states that share an extreme information and control fetish with the now long-gone East German Stasi. Enemies of the state and the state ideology are everywhere. The state must be protected, and the way to accomplish this is through knowing everything about a person that can possibly be known. This movie illustrates what can happen to otherwise innocent people when those in power have arbitrary access to such information, or the power to pry into the lives of others without oversight or accountability.

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