I saw The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) over this past weekend with a friend of mine. I tend to be very picky about the films that I watch in the theatre because I don’t do it too often. In this case, I made an excellent choice after much deliberation over the phone.
The Lives of Others is set in 1984, a few years before the Soviet Union and the Easter Bloc came tumbling down. It follows the story of a drama writer in GDR and how difficult it was in those days for artistes to express their opinion in East Germany. The film shows how the writer is forced to censor his ideas because he would otherwise be blacklisted and forbidden from writing ever again. At the same time, he feels guilty about letting himself be silenced by the Stasi. The film shows the ridiculous limits the government goes to infringe upon the privacy of individuals. The rationale for the surveillance is to cull anti-Communist sentiment, but the real reason is the abuse of power by corrupt high-ranking officers of the Stasi.
As a kid growing up in a Soviet-friendly, socialism-leaning society, we were taught about the evils of capitalism and how the great Soviet Union was making a stand against it. What we were never told was how the people living under a communist regime were being oppressed by the state, even though everyone was supposed to be a comrade. Of course, my views changed when I grew up (though I believe that the state has a role to play in the welfare of the people), but this film really struck a chord in me because it showed me something that happened in my lifetime and the immensity of the destruction of the Berlin wall.
The film also serves as a warning for the post-9/11 world which is increasingly eschewing the principles of free society and free thinking and embracing surveillance as a measure to thwart terrorism. History has shown us time and again that power corrupts. If we keep marching ahead with draconian anti-freedom and anti-privacy measures, we will find our lives being increasingly in control of those who will exploit us for personal gain. George Orwell’s 1984 may be closer than we think.