The Hells of Others

Gray country. Gray sky. Gray little man, in a gray suit. With a gray little soul, perhaps just coming alive.

The film is “The Lives of Others.”

It’s East Germany, 1984. Stasi intelligence officer Capt. Gerd Weisler is assigned secret surveillance of acclaimed playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend Christa-Maria Seiland. Weisler does so, the sole satisfaction in his life is exposing enemies of the state, squelching their treason, their careless talk, their poor jokes at the Chancellor’s expense. It’s a land where questions are as serious as a heart attack. “Name?” can be a prelude to a disappearance. Of course, they already know your name.

The Stasi’s motto is “Know Everything.” Every detail, every fact of life is painstakingly collected and leveraged over a populace in fear, too afraid to speak or make eye contact because they never know who’s watching, taking notes. Weisler is good at finding out things; he soon discovers that Georg is idealistic about socialism and loyal; almost deliberately refusing to see the reality around him. Weisler also learns that he was given his mission in the hopes that he would find something that could be used; a Party boss desires Christa-Marie, wants Georg out of the picture.

There is love and affection between Georg and Christa-Marie. The flat they share is an oasis of warm colors and feelings. Weisler weakens, begins to feel affection for them, even protective, their unseen gray angel. In his own life, he is so tightly wrapped he can barely breathe. Sex is bought from a “Party” girl prostitute who doesn’t even give him time to undress or share a moment’s imitation of tenderness. Why can’t he have friends, feelings like Georg and Christa-Marie?

A dangerous game is played in a dangerous land. The suspense for the viewer is as heavy as the oppression that covers the land. You know, the Germans know, this can’t end well. How can you escape the tentacles that are everywhere: coercion, deceit, betrayal, sacrifice. Can you stay a half-step ahead of the authorities and your own doubts?

Heartbreak. An ending. A wall cracks and then falls. Then another ending. And another. And the gray light looks a little lighter, a seed of redemption gives forth a tiny shoot. Perhaps, a beginning.

A Sonata for a Good Man. A powerful film.

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