I’ve just finished watching The Lives of Others. It’s amazing. If you haven’t had a chance already (I know I’m almost a decade behind on this), then I highly recommend it.
There are a couple of things that are remarkable. The two that stuck out to me were how well-plotted it was – exquisitely so – and the elegant contrast of the internal and external conflict.
The story follows an East German Stasi agent, surveying an artist at the behest of a superior who’s enamoured of the artist’s partner. From there, it’s a rich story about several things at once. There’s change in all the characters, from the Stasi agent, to the artist and his partner. I don’t want to ruin the plot, but suffice to say that while it’s set in a dark, cold and colourless world populated by Stasi agents, much of the actual conflict is internal. Truth and lies, when to share and when to withhold information – the decisions change lives, and they’re made in seconds.
And that’s where the plotting comes in. The interplays of the different storylines are beautiful; a thoughtless act by one character ripples out into enormous ramifications for others, and throughout, random chance plays a real role. I noticed it halfway through, in one of the simpler turning points; and gradually I realised that it reminded me of one of the Shakespearean comedies in its complexity. But it’s a tragedy that draws you in, right until the last moment.
I was disappointed to find it wasn’t a real story; and the movie’s been criticised for letting the East Germany police state off the hook too lightly. Those are aspects that I don’t know about first-hand, so I can’t really comment. But in terms of narrative, this is a remarkable film. Well worth seeing.