The Corner

Film & TV

Much-Belated Praise for The Lives of Others

East and West German citizens celebrate as they climb the Berlin wall at the Brandenburg gate after the opening of the East German border was announced in Berlin, November 9, 1989. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

Continuing in the spirit of belatedly weighing in on things, I would like to join several of my National Review colleagues (past and present) in proclaiming the greatness of the German-language film The Lives of Others. Released in 2006 and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others is a moving, intimate, and haunting depiction of life under the Communist regime in East Germany, as revealed through the complicated interaction of an agent of the East German Stasi secret police with the target of his surveillance. After many years of intending to do so, I finally watched it last night, and my goodness was it worth the wait.

Contemporary critical opinion, both here and elsewhere, was on the mark in praising The Lives of Others. Here in the Corner in 2007, John Podhoretz called it “one of the greatest movies ever made.” In 2009, John Miller ranked it No. 1 on his famous list of best conservative movies of the past 25 years. His ranking quotes William F. Buckley, still alive for the film’s release, who, after seeing the film in a theater with a friend, turned to him and said, “I think that is the best movie I ever saw.” Even the Oscars had a rare outbreak of good sense, bestowing upon The Lives of Others the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For an industry with such an ambiguous record concerning communism to have assented to the greatness of a sternly anti-communist film is a true testament to the film’s greatness.

Without giving too much away, in case anyone else wants to get in on my slowpoke act, one criticism some have made of the movie is that the arc of the central character, a Stasi agent, is unrealistic. First Things provided a convincing case to the contrary at the time, one that I think holds up. But anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet should do so to judge for himself.

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