Always suspicious of being seen for my own protection, I often wonder how everyday life in a police state can be. Certainly, we can gather nuggets of insight about a visit to an airport or courthouse or enjoy a depressing citizen education from the Key West Building Department. But I'm talking about the details of daily life in a total state of surveillance. It's harder to imagine.
For that experience, short of moving to public housing or going to work at the Department of Homeland Security, I recommend the movie, Others life (which I will spoil for you below.) I stumbled upon it in a video rental store here in San Jose, Costa Rica & # 39; burbs. I have since heard that it won an 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It has received almost uniform praise from as many different critics as Roger Ebert and William F. Buckley. We are not exactly at the forefront of cinema here in Central America.
The action is filmed in German by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and the action takes place in 1984 in communist East Germany. It paints a gloomy and, from most firsthand accounts, an accurate picture of life in a society where everyone was closely watched for signs of disloyalty to the state. Agents from Stasi, short of the impossibly German mouthful "Staatssicherheitsdienst" or the state security service, were everywhere. At the same time, private citizens – blackmailed, bribed or eagerly patriotic – number in the hundreds of thousands. Kids steering wheel about parents, men on wives, friends on friends. Failure to snitch can mean jail or ruin or both. The now dormant TIPS program proposed by the Bush DOJ a few years ago is thinking about.
As the taste of German socialism changed from fascism to communism after Hitler's defeat, little else changed with it. Stasi agents were not very different from Hitler's Gestapo. Although notably violent and less prone to mass murder, they were much thicker on earth. Stasi-spooks were the number of Gestapo waves ten to one. The East Germans, as always, with respect for authority over a mistake, fell in line with the new bosses and cooperated lavishly in their own humiliation.
The film's history turns on the conflict between totalitarianism and art. The protagonist is a strict, ruthless apparatchik named Wiesler, brilliantly portrayed by Ulrich Mühe. He finds his humanity and abandons his ideology when exposed to the intimate details of two artists' lives, a playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his beautiful actor partner, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck).
Weisler's job is to monitor the two through hidden listening devices planted in their apartment and find a way to discredit Dreyman. Weisler's boss, the ugly head of the Ministry of Culture, wants the writer out of the way of his uncomfortable interest in the lame actress.
But the reliable snitch and loyal party man are adored by beauty. When the author is in mourning for a friend driven to suicide by Stasi, a Beethoven piano player plays, Sonata for the good men, it moves the stony-hearted Weisler to tears.
Weisler moves a book of Berthold Brecht's poetry from the author's apartment. In his own lonely apartment late at night, Brecht's words push him down the path to his pending compassion. He is also smitten by the beautiful, symbolically named Christa-Maria, and tries to save her from the hard sex his slimy boss extort from her.
At a terrible cost, Weisler rescues the author from prison. The Berlin Wall is coming down. Shocking revelations of abuse of power and the moral bankruptcy of communism flow from gloomy stasi-prisons in daylight. Freedom and art prevail in a successful novel by the rescued author and eventually by restoring something that is much more like political freedom for East Germany.
I can hardly say more than the hundreds of critics have praised for this fine work. It is a film that everyone should watch for the truth, it talks about how power over others destroys those who have it, about the danger of trusting the state and finally about the banality of evil and the power of beauty and human dignity to oppose it.
The powers that Stasi had in East Germany are those we have now assigned to government agencies in the United States. In the name of protecting ourselves from Arab terrorists, a group likely to be the number of federal employees, we have provided a swarming host of three-and-four-letter unprecedented government agencies.
Any number of US government agencies can now do what Stasi did so well in East Germany – search, fresh, snoop, eavesdropping, identifying, identifying, disarming and ultimately arresting without charges anyone accused of aiding "terrorism". "Terrorism" is so wrongly defined that an accurate résumé would be "to do or think about bad things."
Such power is much more likely to result in excessive abuse than to reduce the already small dangers posed by "terrorists". The lives of others show us how it happens more vividly than I can describe it. It also reminds us how rare redemption is for ordinary men who abuse undeserved power over others. Weisler is remarkable because he is the exception. Art and beauty will always be the enemies of tyranny, but it does not diminish the power of art, beauty or human compassion to observe that the author, Dreyman, was lucky.