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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Lives of Others (2006)



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The Lives of Others is about an East German agent, circa 1984, who runs surveillance on a writer identified as a risk for anti-communist leanings. The bulk of the film tells the two stories of the writer and the agent in parallel. Gradually, we come to learn about these two men just as the agent gradually comes to know the writer. But quantum physics can teach us something about human nature: there is no such thing as an impartial observer. The act of observing causes changes to both the observer and the subject of observation.

The film's chronicle of this change is masterful. There is never any single event, as there is in many lesser movies, that triggers a complete change of character. These men are firmly entrenched in their ways. But lots of little changes add up over time. Therein lies the film's power, which sneaks up on you. At the end, it's astonishing to think back and realize how far you've come.

The ending is as perfect an ending as any movie has ever had. There are no great twists or revelations or shoot-outs, just the perfect note that the movie has been leading up to all along. Few films have moved me more.