document lives in “The Lives of Others”

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Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s (Oscar winning!) The Lives of Others is the international movie to go see with grannies, boring friends and professional acquaintances now. This is both for the Hollywood-approved tale of honor and morality in commie East Berlin and for the key role that textual objects and archival documents play.

The film’s protagonist, Georg Dreyman, is a playwright who’s successful with his audiences as well as his critics, prized by the GDR theater establishment, popular in cool East Berliner artist circles, and inspired by his oversexed yet nurturing girlfriend/muse Christa-Marie (played by the striking Martina Gedeck, whose style is amazing, despite the overwhelming misogyny lumped on her character). But in the last gasps of mid-80’s Stasi artistic repression, he’s put under surveillance, just as he happens to get interested in writing anti-Eastern missives for Spiegel. The rising Stasi who’s put on the wiretap duty is the schlumpy Capt. Gerd Wiesler, who out of his own loneliness and growing dissent, decides to fudge his reports, thus leaving a false record of Georg’s behavior.

The cop operation is deterred by Wiesler’s misreporting, so they set out to determine the writer of the essay with an exciting round of forensic typography (believe me, those scenes are bananas!). In the end, Wiesler gets demoted for his namby-pambyness in the investigation, and Georg is saved from persecution and goes on to become capitalist-successful after the wall falls. It’s only in the denouemont that Georg, in a quest to come to terms with his past, visits the Stasi archives and reads the records of his surveillance, finally learning what Wiesler did. It can only be described as extreme archival redemption!

The real-life fate of Stasi documents doesn’t seem to be so easy.

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