Just to be clear: I hate it when people reference 1984 for no good reason. The Lives of Others is set in Socialist East Germany in the year 1984, so I'm in the clear here. It's about dedicated Stasi officer Hauptmann Ged Wiesler and the playwright whose apartment he's wiretapped due to suspected party disloyalty. Wiesler is played by Ulrich Muhe (sadly, now deceased), who bears a resemblance to Vladimir Putin (sadly, still alive). While eavesdropping on the lives of the writer and his actress girlfriend, Wiesler learns something about himself. God knows what: Germans aren't big on emotional displays, and Commies even less so. At the same time, Wiesler's faith in the Stasi (stated purpose: "To Know Everything") is shaken when he learns that the true purpose of his present mission is less about protecting an ideal than it is about helping a bureaucrat get laid. One thing leads to another, and Wiesler becomes the playwright's guardian as he engages in subversive activities.
Stories about steely men who discover their own hearts are hardly unique. Besides, how exciting could a film be when it consists entirely of people talking to each other in German while another German listens in? Pretty damn exciting, it turns out -- like V for Vendetta in real life. The Lives of Others won an Oscar for Best Foreign film last year, and frankly I'm astonished at the Academy's good judgment. What's next? Passing over trendy agitprop in favor of giving Werner Herzog a Best Documentary Oscar? Let's not get crazy. Baby steps, Academy, baby steps toward credibility.