Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Lives of Others


Can people really change?

Last night, Jessica and I went to see an excellent new(-ish) German film called The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). Set in East Germany (GDR) in 1984, the film follows a loyal playwright and his surveillance by the feared secret police, the Stasi (State Security). It has been estimated that by the time the wall came down in 1989, the Stasi had 91,000 full-time employees and somewhere around 200,000 to 300,000 civilian informants (by comparison, Hitler's Germany had 30,000 Gestapo officers for the entire country). The Stasi's stated aim: "to know everything" - Bentham's Panopticon achieved on a state level. Having recently re-read Yevgeny Zamyatin's original dystopia We (the inspiration for Nineteen eighty-four, Brave New World (though Huxley denied it) and through them, the entire modern genre of dystopias), The Lives of Others resonated powerfully with familiar themes of individuality and conformity, the subversive and liberating role of art, and the question of the possibility and ethics of symbolic resistance.

The film was also a very moving portrayal of the unusual relationship that develops when one begins watching the lives of others. A political thriller with emotional intelligence, the film asks the question: "Can people really change?"

Even if you haven't seen the film (and if you have, don't give anything away, for the sake of all those who ought to go and see it), what do you think: can people really change?