Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Lives of Others: A Short Comment

This exchange takes place two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the writer and the ex East German Minister of Arts run into each other.

Writer: Why wasn't I banned? Why wasn't I watched?

Minister: Of course, you were watched completely watched. You were under full survelliance.

Writer: Was I wire tapped also?

Minister: Absoulutely, every drop of your life.

Writer: Impossible.

Minister: Use your imagination even your sexual was far beyond what you could imagine, you little artist.

The Oscar's in the foreign film category for the year 2006 was awarded to a German film titled, The Lives of Others. The film set in East Berlin during the closing years of the cold war and narrates the story of a Stasi (Secret Police) agent who reports on a writer Georg Dreyman and his beautiful actress wife, Christa Marie.

The Stasi agent, Hauptmaan, due to the intimate, free speaking world he is privy to undergoes a transformation from the "tight-lipped professional who shows no mercy in fighting the 'enemies of socialism' to like them [the couple], or perhaps envy the richness and depth of their lives in comparison with his own". And over time starts to protect the couple and their increasingly threatened lives after Dreyman publishes an article in a West German magazine about the suicide rates in the East Germany. Hauptmaan hears music banished from the communist state, steals Brtech from the author's library to read and doctors his reports to foil the evil designs of the bureaucracy. The film is a dramatisation of the havoc that intelligence agencies played with the lives of millions in the socialist countries under the guise of protecting national security.

What was the transformation that Hauptmaan, the agent goes through? Was it empathy for his victims? Was it love/desire for Christa Marie? OR was it the more profound breakdown of his faith in his socialist ideology and strong belief in his country/humanity? Or simpler put was it a more human emotion of protecting the weak in the face of adversity despite putting himself and his entire career at risk.

Until the fall of the wall each of them has paid a big price. After that a whole new world begins.

Further readings:

The Stasi on Our Minds By Timothy Garton Ash
Volume 54, Number 9 · May 31, 2007.

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker.

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