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The Lives of Others

Summary:
Well into week three of home isolation and the temptation to stop work and switch on the TV has never been stronger. In a textbook case of self-justification, I flicked on The Lives of Others as, being in German, it made me feel pretentious enough to not to admit to watching TV during the daytime on a workday.  The film, however, is brilliant and it is no surprise that it won best foreign language film at the 2007 Oscars, and has been credited as the best-ever German film.The film is set in Communist East Germany (GDR). The main character is a Stasi officer, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe). He is noticeably more committed to the ideology of socialism than many of his colleagues trying to play party politics to climb the greasy bureaucratic pole. Gerd is tasked by one such superior, to spy on

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Well into week three of home isolation and the temptation to stop work and switch on the TV has never been stronger. In a textbook case of self-justification, I flicked on The Lives of Others as, being in German, it made me feel pretentious enough to not to admit to watching TV during the daytime on a workday.  

The film, however, is brilliant and it is no surprise that it won best foreign language film at the 2007 Oscars, and has been credited as the best-ever German film.

The film is set in Communist East Germany (GDR). The main character is a Stasi officer, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe). He is noticeably more committed to the ideology of socialism than many of his colleagues trying to play party politics to climb the greasy bureaucratic pole. Gerd is tasked by one such superior, to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who is known for his loyalty to the party, and provide grounds for his arrest. The real aim of the mission is a favour for a government minister who believes his position makes him more deserving of the writer’s girlfriends’ affection. 

Over the course of the film the Stasi officer, observing the life of the writer through the cameras and bugs placed in his apartment, begins to see how his own life of blind obedience seems dull in comparison. He sees how the playwright’s small acts of rebellion against the GDR state serves not the exploitation of the capitalists over the workers. Instead, it demonstrates the oppressiveness of the state which refuses to accept a world of nuance rather than ideological dogma. The officer is torn between his loyalty to the corrupt state and his knowledge that the writer is a good man who does not deserve the punishment that has been planned for him from the beginning. 

Following a tragic storyline, the film shows how communism’s innate totalitarianism and need to quash even the smallest acts of rebellion against the state. It also shows the flawed humans who run a communist state, leading to unnecessary suffering. The state surveillance and intervention into the lives of its citizens results in tragic consequences. 

Of course, we have never known a Stasi in the UK. Yet as the government increases restrictions on our lives, most of them justified to help stop the pandemic, it is important we do not allow more sinister features to emerge.

A recent post by Derbyshire police involved one of their drones filming walkers out on the peak district. Looking more like a clip from the TV show hunted rather than an efficient use of police time, it showed a car park more than half empty along with walkers hundreds of metres apart – clearly at little risk of infection. Yet the baying for people’s blood by many in the comments section is an unnerving reminder how the handing over of oppressive powers can often be a popular one at the beginning.

As Tim Stanley wrote in the telegraph this morning, the attitude needs to remain, “I am happy to stay at home if it helps save lives,” rather than the emerging sentiment, “I will do as I’m told because I’m terrified and the state knows best.” 

While these restrictions on our liberties are necessary at such an extreme time, we must remain vigilant on any unnecessary losses of freedom or surveillance. The tragedy of communism in the past shows the damage these can cause.

Yet perhaps even more important, we as a society must be wary to not fall into the trap of calling for further controls and demanding the crucifixion of those who we believe to be in the wrong. 

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