A German-made movie, The Lives of Others, illustrates the power of beauty to change noxious beliefs and actions into deeds of kind heroism – even when it puts the perpetrator into danger. Despite needing English subtitles for most American viewers, it won the 2007* Academy Award for Best Foreign Movie. With a bare bones budget of $2 million, a brand new writer/director, and actors working for a mere 20% of their usual pay, it also received a record number of nominations and awards in Europe.
Most of the dialogue and action involves Georg Dreyman, a playwright, Crista-Maria Sieland, a successful actress, and their circle of artist friends. The group is basically apolitical; they just want to fulfill their creative desires without fear of retribution from the State. Eventually one of them commits suicide after six years of being blacklisted and not allowed to work at all.
However the main character is a proudly diligent Stasi Captain in East Berlin. Gerd Weisler is well trained in effective methods of interrogation and the official expectation that ordinary people do not change without punishment, if at all. Weisler is neither evil, nor a slacker; he worked hard to succeed at his assigned tasks. He believed in the system.
But the Captain begins to change when sent to personally monitor George and Crista-Maria with hidden cameras and microphones in every room of their apartment. After hearing George discuss Bertol Brecht, he slyly enters the Dreyman apartment to ‘borrow’ a book of Brecht’s poetry. When he first over-hears Dreyman play “Sonata for A Good Man,” he is mesmerized. (See entry for July 4, 2017). Quietly, almost imperceptibly, he begins to adjust his written reports.
The plot is subtle, but powerfully moving. You will be glad you watched all 137 minutes, just like 95% of reviewers on Amazon. You might even decide to buy a CD of the score by Gabriel Yared. The writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, spent a month translating the script into French before sending it to Gabriel because he believed Yared would be the best composer for the soundtrack. (Some of it in is the clip above.)
* Just in case you’re wondering, I had a number of serious health issues in 2005-2007, so I didn’t even hear about the movie until I started looking for examples of beauty changing the world.