“The Lives of Others” is a 2006 German film about the Stasi secret police in East Germany, and it is excellent. The star of it, the late Ulrich Muhe, had actually been an East German border guard before becoming an actor and opponent of the regime in the DDR.
When I first heard about it, I thought it would be a dour and depressing movie, but it is actually fascinating in its portrayal of life in a police state, especially one that pretends that it isn’t. It is a curious aspect of Communism that even its highest officials knew it wasn’t working, yet the system deemed the first person to criticise it a traitor, making it a self perpetuating failure. Curiously, the language used by the Communist officials in the film about loyalty is not a million miles from that used by Fox News. When watching it, if you replace the word “socialism” with “freedom” you’ll see what I mean. These bastards wear jackets in all sorts of colours.
The movie centres around an idealistic but lonely Stasi agent who becomes engrossed in the lives of a playwright and his actress girlfriend. It is also about how people try to live a normal life, indeed to get on, under the paranoid eyes of a monstrous regime. I won’t ruin the ending other than to say it delivers for the viewer, and is one of the more thoughtful yet accessible movies I have ever seen that seriously examines what it means to be free.
We in Ireland, as one of the few European countries to have never known fascism or communism, need to remember how lucky we are.