The first five minutes of “The Lives of Others” prepared me for another assault on socialism, and in particular, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). What appears to be a one-sided film quickly reveals there is much more to the story.

The film is somewhat narrowly focused, but the character of artist Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) embodies what we think of as a socialist human being. He writes plays about comradery and worker control about the workplace and believes in the worth of the individual, who can only improve the entire society.

The film takes place in the GDR in 1984 and begins with a young man being interrogated by Capt. Gert Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe), a domestic surveillance specialist and interrogation expert. Wiesler works for the Ministry for State Security (the Stasi), and is an honest man who believes in socialism and protecting it. After hours, the captain succeeds in breaking down his suspect. As we witness the interrogation, our sympathy lies with the young man who is accused of helping a friend cross over to the West.

Wiesler is assigned to bug Dreyman’s apartment on orders from the Minister of Culture who is attracted to Dreyman’s actress partner. Wiesler realizes there is much to be learned from the surveillance of the playwright’s private life.

The film depicts the complex circumstances that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and its allies. It examines the human elements that shaped policy and brought to bear subjective forces that undermined socialism.

Early on, one figures out which direction Wiesler will go. Experiencing petty corruption and opportunism, he begins to look at the multisided human expectations of his society. The film examines the characters in depth and helps us understand the shortcomings of early socialism, and I think this is what makes “The Lives of Others” an important film worth seeing. Each character challenges the system. For me, both Dreyman and Wiesler are right.

At the end of the film, the camera scans a neighborhood, which is gray, drab and marred with graffiti, several years after the Berlin wall came down. Can people change? Can we be true believers for a better world? What are the ingredients to advance socialism? This film examines some essential parts of these questions.

gfalsetta @ cpusa.org

The Lives of Others

(Das Leben der Anderen)

Germany, 2006, 137min.

Rated R

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