The Lives of Others

That’s the new German movie with the rave reviews and the foreign language film Oscar, but don’t be fooled.  The movie is technically excellent, but not thoughtful.  It is part of a more general, and disturbing, trend in contemporary German culture to whitewash the past.  The film shows many small acts of defiance against the Stasi, as if to redeem an otherwise sorry East German record.  Last year — fortunately I cannot remember the title — we were shown the German martyrs against the Nazis. 

Don’t economists emphasize the marginal unit?  Can’t we have at least one movie about small acts of defiance?  In principle yes, but characters implausibly discover the brotherhood of man and viewers are fed uplifting final homilies, a’la Schindler.  Natasha, who lived with her equivalent of the Stasi for many years, had a similar reaction of partial disgust and incredulity.

My friends consider me a cultural Germanophile (I could do "My Favorite Things German" for weeks), but I tend to be a cynic about the blacker historical episodes in the German past.  I used to hate the slow, tortuous, and pretentious Nazi-Angst movies of Fassbinder and his ilk, but they’ve aged surprisingly well, and they came much closer to striking the appropriate tone.

Addendum: Here is one good review (spoilers); by the way if you know the Hong Kong original, Infernal Affairs, you’ll find The Departed almost impossible to watch.  I walked out.


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