The Lives of Others Embarcadero Cinema
Kunst? Kultur? Art? What is it that moves the human soul or mind, or are we caught in a web of self-preservation that will not admit to such things, let alone responsibility for our neighbor? These are the questions that engage the audience as the characters in this film begin to be revealed to us. Another question, however, begs our attention. Are the high institutions of Art and Culture absent the state, or are they, in the long run, a slave of the state?
This is a bleak film about lives in the former East Germany. It is about a people who have been co-opted by their own self interest, and about institutions that should speak about altruism and transcendence, that are really only window dressing. However, even given those truths, the hope that this film speaks of is that these institutions, these individuals can yet have hope, and a sense of care for the neighbor, and most of all, that art can still penetrate the human soul.
Captain Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Mühe, plays the passive, controlled eye of the government. His role is to observe and to record. His own life is unremarkable from the squeeky clean, sterile apartment that we briefly observe, to the totally without passion sessions he has with a prostitute. In his pursuit of an actor and his lover-actress, Georg Dreyman - played by Sebastian Koch, and Christa-Mari Sieland - played by Martina Gedeck, he quickly reminds others of their vulnerability, building a community of spies that observe the suspect couple.
Two situations change the situation. The first is art. Wiesler sees the actor in a play, and then later hears him play a piano sonata. His reaction to these two performances isn't immediately discernable, but both begin to change his perception of those whom he is watching. Finally it is the sonata that drives the denoument of this film, and offers a sense of hope.
The other force that changes Captain Wiesler comes to us from physics. The observer changes the observed and visa versa. The outcomes will be different for having been observed. At one point Wiesler becomes a puppetier, and makes for dangerous consequences for the observed and the observe. The lesson is that there is nothing pure here - all is influenced by our humanity, our sense of self and other. That some observe should observe us, and through his/her own sense of value, morality, or whatever, should be able to "record" all the aspects of our lives is folly. All is infected by thought, values, bias, and self interest. There is no pure observation.
I enjoyed this film immensely. The ending is quite moving and quite hopeful. I wonder if art shall, in the long run, truly save us, and take us away from thinking that all is created in our image alone (the original sin). Or is art a tool of manipulation and fakery? The answers, in this film, are hopeful, but unclear.
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