Moving Pictures ™ – The Lives of Others

By Terri Catlin

The first time I watched The Lives of Others, I was alone on the couch.

When my husband came out of the bedroom at the end of the film, he saw me sobbing amongst a pile of used tissues, tears streaming down my face. “You have to see this film,” I told him. I didn’t want to give anything away, but I needed to share the experience with someone, to talk about how deeply moved I was by these characters and this simple yet incredible story. It was that night that I got the idea for this column.

When I look at my lifelong love affair with movies, it’s almost impossible to figure out my favourite film, or even era or genre. I have been entertained and moved by everything from 1930s romantic comedies to current political thrillers. But what all my ‘faves’ have in common is that they’ve touched me in some way – added to my perception of what’s good in people and in the world.

It’s easy to look out and find evidence for what’s “wrong”, and I’m not suggesting that we should bury our heads in the sand. But sometimes we’re so mired in cynicism and resignation, that we are paralyzed into inaction.  Seeing what’s “right” gives us hope and hope breeds inspiration, inspiration breeds creativity, creativity breeds action and action makes a difference. And so it was that The Lives of Others inspired this action – to write a column that is not a review about whether a movie is good or bad, but a look at how it impacts us and what we can learn from it.

Against the monochrome and often-bleak background of East Berlin in 1984, we meet three people whose lives and fate become inextricably intertwined. Wiesler is a member of the ever-watchful Stasi – the East German Secret Police. Georg is a famous and loyal Socialist playwright, and Christa, his girlfriend and muse, an actress and “great artist” of the East German stage. On the orders of a corrupt senior government official who has fallen for the glamorous actress, Wiesler is assigned the task of finding an act of state disloyalty on the part of her boyfriend. As Wiesler monitors their actions and conversations, he undergoes a transformation.

Wiesler has blind faith in his beliefs, his country and his place in all of it. He follows orders unfailingly – until he allows the lives of Georg and Christa to open his heart, his eyes and his mind. What moves me about Wiesler is his willingness to question that which he holds as unquestionably true. What do we hold as “true” that keeps us from seeing from another’s perspective? What limits do we put on our thinking that disallow compassion and ultimately love of our fellow human beings?

Wiesler, Georg and Christa are all put to a test of character. Those who possess the courage to stand for what they believe in will face great risk. But the cost of succumbing to weakness is even greater. What I am reminded of in this winner of the 2006 Best Foreign Language Academy Award is this:  Being true to oneself isn’t always easy, but it’s not nearly as difficult as the alternative.

Terri Catlin


Terri Catlin is an award-winning actor/writer/director and network marketing professional.

The Lives of Others is available on Netflix.  

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