'It has been decided that the Buddha must die.'
'That does not answer my question, however. Why have you come here?'
'Are you not the Buddha?'
'I have been called Buddha, and Tathagatha, and the Enlightened One, and many other things. But, in answer to your question, no, I am not the Buddha. You have already succeeded in what you set out to do. You slew the real Buddha this day.'
'My memory must indeed be growing weak, for I confess that I do not remember doing this thing.'
'The real Buddha was named by us Sugata,' replied the other. 'Before that, he was known as Rild.'
'Rild!' Yama chuckled. 'You are trying to tell me that he was more than an executioner whom you talked out of doing his job?'
'Many people are executioners who have been talked out of doing their jobs,' replied the one on the rock. 'Rild gave up his mission willingly and became a follower of the Way. He was the only man I ever knew to achieve real enlightenment.'
—Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
”Beauty is truth,” said Keats. “Beauty is information,” says the great Russian semiotician, Juri Lotman, a formula more in tune with the modern mind. Henry James, the first truly modern novelist in the English language, did not believe that the ultimate truth about human experience could ever be established, but developed a fictional technique that loaded every rift with the ore of information.
—David Lodge, The Art of Fiction
The English-language (subtitled) version of Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s feature-film debut, begins with two title cards:
1984, East Berlin. Glasnost is nowhere in sight.and
The population of the GDR is kept under strict control
by the Stasi, the East German Secret Police.
Its force of 100,000 employees and 200,000 informersThe first thing we see Stasi Captain Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) do is press the record button on a tape recorder. He is about to interrogate a prisoner at the Temporary Detention Center in the Ministry for State Security.
safeguards the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Its declared goal: “To know everything”.
You think we imprison people on a whim?
If you think our humanistic system capable of such a thing, that alone would justify your arrest.
At the end of the first phase of the interrogation the scene shifts to the Stasi College in Potsdam. Captain Wiesler is teaching interrogation technique to a group of young people. The scene shifts back and forth as the interrogation gets results (forty hours later) and the trainees ask and answer questions while their instructor takes note. At the end of the lesson there is applause from the left. Captain Wiesler’s boss, Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), is observing from an open doorway. Grubitz has stopped by because he wants Wiesler to accompany him to the theater to see a play. Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) will be there. This is the prologue.
There is a title card bearing the name of the movie.
The main story begins at the theater. A play written by Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and starring his significant other, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), is being performed. His boss informs Captain Wiesler that to all appearances the playwright is a loyal East German. The secret policeman is immediately intrigued. He is certain the playwright is an “arrogant type” he warns his students about. He’s a challenge that the Captain suggests he’d like to take up and that, of course, is exactly what his boss, who knows him well, wants to hear. At the opening-night party the Minister tells the playwright that “people do not change” and then for the better part of two hours covering a time period of less than half a year the one man, so self-controlled and self-confident, will watch and listen and, within limits, change as events unfold and he becomes more and more bound up in the life and the future of the other.
There is also an epilogue which begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and through five short scenes spanning five years delivers—dare I write it—an ending as perfect as I can imagine which includes a perfect last line and a haunting last shot. Very few stories told on film or, for that matter, in any medium have been told as well. See it. See it again.