The Lives of Others certainly has a lot going for it in terms of its subject — the sordid underbelly of East Germany and its secret police force — but the characterisation is one-dimensional, the pacing is ponderous in the extreme and the storyline is full of unexplained holes. I never for a second believed the central character’s conversion into a good guy, and I never really cared about the noble playwright, his cripplingly neurotic actress-girlfriend or the Party bigwig who lusts after her.
Thank goodness. I was beginning to think I was the only one. I especially agree with Davis about Gerd Wiesler, the Stasi eavesdropper who mysteriously turns from government automaton into weirdly sympathetic coconspirator with the objects of his eavesdropping. There was simply no serious motivation provided for this transformation. It was almost as if the writer figured he didn’t really need to bother.
More broadly, I guess part of my problem with The Lives of Others was that I was expecting something different. (Yes, I realize this is hardly a fair basis on which to judge a movie.) I was vaguely expecting a movie that demonstrated the constant, day-to-day oppression of living in a state where your every action is potentially under surveillance, but instead it turned out to be a story about one single person who’s under surveillance and is trying to outwit his watchers. This, to me, made it into fairly ordinary thriller material, except without much in the way of thrills.
I still wouldn’t pan it as badly as Davis did, but it definitely struck me as not nearly as good as its reviews, part of that class of movies that routinely gets more respectful treatment than it deserves solely because it’s foreign and the subject matter is serious. Comments?