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Life affirming

Movies | Lives shows late-term Communism could not eradicate image of God

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

To honor Alexander Solzhenitsyn I'd suggest renting a DVD of The Lives of Others, a German-made movie that won an Oscar as last year's Best Foreign Language Film. Yes, Communism sent Solzhenitsyn and others to the gulag, but it also created hellish everyday environments ruled by secret police like the East German Stasi.

You'll see that even Communism could not eradicate the image of God that remains stamped on craven creatures: A whisper of freedom set to music can make even a secret police captain weep. One of the film's corrupt Communists asserts that "people don't change"-but with God's grace we do, in ways hardly predictable.

You'll also see debut director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's perfect pacing and detailing of the story, set largely in 1984, of two men: a playwright who attempts to retain his integrity while remaining a favorite of Communist bureaucrats, and the Stasi true believer whose thinking changes as he -listens in on the playwright's private life.

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Their stories add up to make real the rare film that contains both action and thought, suspense and an ethical question: How to act virtuously and live in an environment where virtue seems to equal suicide. Director van Donnersmarck so respects free will that he avoids clumsy foreshadowing: Characters act in ways hard to predict.

Ironically, the playwright and the spy are both patriots who can be loyal to their ideals only by committing treason. Some American directors have tried to suggest that the same tension pervades our society and have only in the process revealed their own paranoia. It would be great if more American directors dealt with historical realities: Hundreds of films have -broken out the Nazi uniforms, but few have dealt with Communism.

The one drawback of The Lives of Others for some potential viewers is its R rating for some sexuality/nudity: The film shows the Stasi captain's sadness by picturing his joyless interaction with a prostitute and his impassive listening to sounds of adultery. But the last minutes of The Lives of Others, which take us from 1984 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then to 1993, form one of the most moving endings in all of film.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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