Spies like us: German edition

An overreaching government watches its own people, spying on their every move, and listens to their conversations.

An overreaching government watches its own people, spying on their every move, and listens to their conversations. Bribes an blackmail turn family and friends against each other as they inform on their loved ones. It all seems like something from a George Orwell book, or out of a dystopian sci-fi thriller. But it is not. This is East Berlin, in the mid 1980s, before the wall fell. The cold war rages on, and Soviet dominance remains active in the lives of the East German people.

During this time, the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, employs loyal East Germans to spy on the people. Those who could possibly be suspected as standing against the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which is basically anyone and everyone, are placed under surveillance, wire taped and monitored. Their private lives are put on the record.

Captain Gerd Wiesler is one such loyal agent. He is looking to advance his career. Wiesler views the Stasi as an essential force against the enemies of socialism.

Wiesler’s latest assignment is to monitor playwright Georg Dreyman. It is just the gig he needs to score some major career points. Dreyman’s apartment is wired and Wiesler spends his days and night listening in on the life of a playwright. Dreyman’s girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland, is added into the mix. Wiesler listens, records and writes summaries of the two lovers’ life behind closed doors. But itisn’t too long before Wiesler become attached to his subjects, and involved in their story.

Furthermore, through the intimate knowledge Wiesler gains of Dreyman, and his awareness of the political system he is loyal to, he finds another sinister scheme is at play. Is he just a pawn in some one else’s abuse of the system, or is Dreyman a subversive character?

“The Lives of Others” is conceptually familiar to another film of surveillance and investigation, “The Conversation.” Fans of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film starring Gene Hackman, will find many similarities at the core of each film. The fixation of monitoring and spying. The shocking ability to peer into private lives. And the emotional toll on the watcher. Hackman’s character, Harry Caul, could be likened to Wiesler in many ways.

Of course, “The Lives of Others” carries a number of other twists placed over this foundation of espionage. The era of soviet paranoia, the aspects of political control all add an intriguing angle to the film. It would be strikingly applicable to other works of fiction speaking to such horrors, if not for the fact that the world depicted in the film was a reality for many years in Europe.

“The Lives of Others” will be shown at the Northwest Film Center as part of their faculty picks series. Screenwriting instructor Holly Brix has selected this film and will introduce it before its screening. ?