I know that most people adore The Lives of Others and find this movie very touching. I, however, could never get into it because of how wrong it gets many of the most basic details of the characters’ daily existence. I don’t like Cold War rhetoric and imagery because of how reductive and unintelligent they are. It’s always the good versus the evil, and it doesn’t matter which side of the Iron Curtain you are on. The verbiage is the same and the desire to reduce complex realities to a bunch of cheesy stereotypes is omnipresent. Both sides judge each other according to their own, very limited ideology, without ever trying to understand that things might be a little bit more complex.
During the Soviet times, my father always listened to the BBC (secretly, of course) at night. “They are fools, all Westerners are fools,” he would fume in the morning. “Last night they said that there were human rights abuses in the USSR which consisted of people not being allowed to travel freely abroad. They have no idea about who we are and how we live. I have a PhD in linguistics and I have to leave aside my research and spend the entire next week sorting rotten cabbage. But, sure, not being able to travel abroad is my main concern.”
I was reminded of this reductive Cold War mentality as I was watching The Lives of Others. The filmmakers so obviously made their film with the goal of selling it to Americans that it was painful to watch. Take, for example, that scene where the character who works for the Stasi comes to his BARE apartment, where he lives ALONE, eates a plate of spaghetti with KETCHUP and invites a PROSTITUTE over to his apartment. I mean, how much more ridiculous than that can you get? And, of course, if a movie is so careless with the minor details, how can you expect it to deliver anything more reliable in terms of the big picture? The result is this unbearably cheesy Americanized fantasy about what life behind the Berlin Wall was like. A fantasy that has nothing to do with reality.