My beloved friend, Irene Mettler, has introduced me to a number of German-speaking filmmakers, one of which, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, made his film debut with what I assume is not only the first in-depth examination of Communist East Germany but also one of the best films and most painfully moving dramatizations of Communist tyranny I’ve ever seen: The Lives of Others.
My own, now decades-long relation to Germany and Austria, where Irene was born and raised, began with the filming of the television mini-series Holocaust in and around Vienna. I entered that soul-wounding experience as a freshly confirmed Roman Catholic, the very religion that my character, Nazi Colonel Eric Dorf, had been raised in.
The hypocrisy of self-declared Christian Germans and Austrians who worked for, of all things, the Waffen-SS, was not only first and foremost in my mind as I filmed; it became a rather shattering encounter with the darker side of the Vatican’s obligatory games with Adolph Hitler.
With this, plus visions of the above, the Rome and Nazi entourage, in my mind, I struggled through the six weeks of filming.
No sooner do Germany and Austria pay for their sins with their defeat in the Second World War, another tyrant, even more successfully voracious than Hitler, shows up: the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.
The Lives of Others actually begins spiritually from this moment of Soviet victory over Germany.
East Germany, under basically Soviet control, is where the heart of The Lives of Others unfolds.
Then inevitably this:
With these photos as a prelude to The Lives of Others, what does this extraordinary film mean to me?
To begin with?
A brilliantly told but inevitably tragic love story.
Romeo and Juliet, but as completely matured adults under what is undeniably a Soviet-style dictatorship in East Berlin, something not all that different from Nazi Germany.
Two exceptionally gifted artists, a dramatist and an actress, who have, with their lives in East Berlin, built undeniably successful careers together. They encounter the ability of their Communist overlords to invade their lives, destroy their love, their careers and eventually the life of the actress.
A third victim, an equally gifted but aging and persecuted theater director, is driven to suicide.
The script is flawlessly realistic.
The details of it, relaying the reality of East Berlin, the lifestyles within that tortured city, the actual feel and smell of a European theater and the singularly captured balance between artistic ego and simple human beings trapped under tyranny, these microscopic verities mount, one on top of the other, all with excruciatingly tragic inevitability.
The examination of the Communist persecutors is utterly thorough. So thorough that the realities eventually become the very liberation of one participant in this governmental sadism. The stonily entranced captive of East Berlin’s Red entrenchment comes to the slowest and most finely etched awakening.
It is a portrayal flowering out of the great German actor Ulrich Mühe and his granite-faced character, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler.
There’s minimalist acting on film… and then there is Ulrich Mühe’s Hauptmann Wiesler.
With so little drama going on in his face, our search for meaning is constantly drawn to Mühe’s eyes.
There, profoundly within him, we begin to see the transformation of an automaton apparatchik into a human being.
It is quite a startling journey of discovery for us throughout the entire film.
I’ve never seen a performance quite like it in my life and I doubt if I ever will again. If I do, I will know the performer was a devoted fan of the late Ulrich Mühe.
As for the lovers?
Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch as the actress and the playwright?
They both carry a gravitas that immediately supports their highly esteemed reputations on the East Berlin stage. For tragedy to have any resonance, as many an astute critic has remarked, the tragic figures must project a “gift” that almost approaches divinity. While neither Goddess nor God, both Gedeck’s and Koch’s portrayals are certainly the equal of America’s famed Lunts or Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.
We’re speaking of The Theater.
These aren’t movie actors.
They are great artists of the stage.
They project their sizable souls without the use of either microphone or close-up.
Then what will we, must we feel growing within this love story?
The grotesque and cancerous truths of Communism and how close they are to us in the waning Western Civilization of today. Few in the Free World either know or even want to know what they are headed for with the European Union, the Progressively Marxist New World Order and the Obama Nation’s Mainstream Injection of Socialism into America.
Not just Bigger Government.
The Progressively Marxist New World Order has no direction for it other than creating, by increasing pressure or simple brute force, an entirely uniform human race. A human herd of over six and a half billion human beings run entirely and dictated to, with excruciatingly deeper detail, by an increasingly greedy world government?!
Socialism versus Free World Capitalism necessitates and demands an increasingly punitive government. There is no other way to enforce Socialism except by an expanding number of punishments for breaking its growing multiplicity of rules.
Then what, in terms of East Berlin government, might we experience in The Lives of Others?
The undeniably selfish use of power to further the personal and selfish gains of whatever the most ruthless of Communist bureaucrats might demand.
In the case of The Lives of Others, Bruno Hempf, portrayed by Thomas Thieme, uses and abuses his authority as Minister of Culture, giving Martina Gedeck’s actress no choice but to submit to his lust.
Most central to the poetry of this film is its director, and his description of the film’s central inspiration:
“I suddenly had this image in my mind of a person sitting in a depressing room with earphones on his head and listening in to what he supposes is the enemy of the state and the enemy of his ideas, and what he is really hearing is beautiful music that touches him. I sat down and in a couple of hours had written the treatment.”
In other words, the power of Art.
The power of Beauty to transform Communism and its savagely imposed “Truth” within a committed disciple of Marx and Lenin… and Stalin… and Mao… into humanity’s unending mysteries of love, dignity and self-respect.
For the actual Truth of Life to live, requires its twin but often invisible partner, Beauty.
The inner, unseeable power of music inspires the ultimately all-powerful reality of Truth.
Aren’t these the only two things artists can be wholly committed to: Truth and Beauty?
Marxist Socialism and its inevitable Communism are, almost by definition and unquestionably by historical fact, bottomless grotesque delusions based upon the lie that the herd is vastly more important than the individual.
The only real reason Communism survives today is because of the enduring success of one man: Mao Zedong.
Should Red China and its Communist tyranny be overthrown by Civil War… that will, at last, spell the end of Communism.
Till then, we must try to endure Mao’s imitators.
What makes such a nightmare happen?
Not a herd.
One metaphysically evil individual such as Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong.
What does it take to lead the Free World into victory over a virulent disease such as Communism?
One individual who leads without fear.
One new Winston Churchill over a would-be Hitler.
Or Ronald Reagan’s eventual victory over the Berlin Wall.
Who in America will finally face down the Progressively Marxist New World Order?
We shall see.
In the meantime, see The Lives of Others.
Although made in 2006, it is, for us particularly, a film about our lives now.