Monday, March 05, 2007

The Lives of Others

I haven't seen too many films lately - the last before this was Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth - but yesterday night I saw a movie that I would recommend to anyone, even if you're less of a film-buff than I am. It's called The Lives of Others, it's in German, and it's about the struggle to retain one's humanity in trying circumstances, and how art, music, and theater can help us in that struggle.

I had been interested in the film ever since I heard its director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, interviewed by Dave Davies on NPR's Fresh Air. He talked about how Vladimir Lenin loved Beethoven's Piano Sonata "Appassionata" but avoided listening to the piece. As one of the film's main characters explains, he couldn't complete the violent work of revolution while listening to such compassionate music. What music would you play, he wondered, if you had only a few minutes alone with an evil man, a man who had lost his reverence for humanity?

The film's composer answered that question with a solo piano piece, titled "Sonata for a Good Man", which is at the heart of the film. It's played at a point of despair, as the main character Georg Dreyman mourns the suicide of his friend and artistic colleague, a theater director who was blacklisted and destroyed by a corrupt regime. Dreyman doesn't realize as he plays that an official of that regime, a Stassi spy named Weisler, is listening and attempting to destroy him as well. Listening to that music and being immersed in the plays and poetry of Dreyman's life, changes Weisler in a fundamental way. He does regain his humanity, and begins to act on his conscience, rather than the orders of his superiors.

I'll try not to spoil any of the plot twists, which are sometimes excruciating - the greatest villain, it seemed to me, was the system itself, which gave so much power to corruptible men, and allowed them to exploit and destroy the lives of others. It's a cruel irony that a system meant to be truth-seeking and egalitarian instead became replete with duplicity and corruption. Amid all this unhappiness, music and art might seem like a small consolation - but for these characters, and for a lot of us, it's the greatest consolation there is!


E.C.D. said...

Thanks for the great movie suggestion and your eloquent prose!I'm back to blogging again by the way.

Matt Heller said...

Thanks, E.C.D.! I'm glad to see you're posting again, I always love to read your stories.