Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Lives of Others

Just watched "The Lives of Others."[*Spoiler alert! If you just want my recommendation, you have it--go put this on your Netflix queue.] I spent the film dreading the ending more and more; while I couldn't help but hope for some sense of human, concrete closure, I feared it too: how could it not be contrived, set against the gritty randomness, the blindness, the cold East-German reality of the rest of the film?

But instead of being incompatably precious, the end of the movie forcefully served as an appropriately nagging reminder of the other lives lost throughout, in the twin senses of those who were killed, and those whose lives in the end belonged to the East German state and not to themselves.

It's a movie about one-way surveillance, and in the final minutes the tables turn: Georg is following his one-time Stasi surveillance man Wiesler, but, like Wiesler, he cannot bring himself to actually meet the man. And so the two are left to "meet" only in the dedication of Georg's new book as Wiesler's eyes read the note of thanks to his code name. The dedication reminds us of Wiesler's failures as much as his strengths; it stands in the place where a dedication to Christa-Maria should have been had things not gone so horribly wrong; and above all, like the surveillance that dominates the film as a whole, it is at the same time intensely impersonal and intensely personal.

It's a great ending that can simultaneously fulfill the hopeful human need of the watcher, and yet exist in harmony with the realism that leads up to it. It's optimistic without being trite: it suggests that there is, after all, some hope to life, in whatever strange and demeaned form it may take--from the colorful graffiti on the now-open Brandenburg Gate to the obsessive actions of a grey operative watching and being touched by the lives of others.

No comments: