The NSA is on a lot of people’s minds these days. It seems like every day reporters are breaking even harsher news as the information from Snowden comes to light. People’s data, whether or not they are being investigated, is being stored on massive hard drives for years at a time. Activists are being targeted and several “invisible” people are being apprehended. Millions of phones are being tapped. Fortune 500 companies are known to get tax breaks and favors from the government for participating in surveillance. But this is not the first time that a country has listened in on people for the sake of catching dissidents, criminals and “terrorists.” East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall created an intricate tapping system that allowed officers of the government to listen in on prominent dissidents in the country. The Lives of Others explores this weird time in German history.
Wiesler is a surveillance man for the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. He is trained in up to the minute tapping techniques and subtle interrogation tactics. He gets an assignment from one of his old classmates who has risen slightly higher than him. He is to listen to a prominent playwright who on the surface seems to be party aligned. This playwright, Dreyman, seems to have it all. A great career, a beautiful lover and a sense of political sensitivity. However a man who is well on his way to becoming president of the country covets his lover. So this man tells Wiesler that he must find something even if there is nothing. Through long hours of listening to Dreyman he can tell that he wants nothing more than to do what is right. Wiesler starts to feel for him. Dreyman is driven to dissonance when one of his comrades commits suicide after being banned to direct plays for eight years. Wiesler now faces a choice. Will he cover up Dreyman’s acts and face consequences if he is revealed or does he show what he has to his superiors and risk this man’s life and career?
Portraying the damaging effects of paranoia on a governmental level is what we need right now. The NSA is damaging real people’s lives over an illusion of security. There can never be total security and total safety. There just can’t be. If someone wants to destroy our livelihoods bad enough than they will find a way to do it. Our country is moving ever so close to this state of heightened paranoia depicted in this film. Where people are jailed for saying one wrong thing. Where people are taken out of their homes at night and tortured until they give up their comrades. Where no one is completely safe from having the large hammer of the government come down upon them. The Lives of Others is where we could be in a couple of years if we are not careful. I just hope that there are more Wieslers out there instead of career opportunists like his boss.