“May my life be independent of the things that happen to me” Kurtág

It’s ancient of course, but I just watched ‘The Life of Others’ – the film about life under the Stasi in East Germany.
It’s fairly unprepossessing stuff: the surveillance of a East German author and his actor girlfriend. But what an intelligent film. There was such sympathy for all the characters: for the hardline stasi officer who puts his life at risk; for the actress who becomes an informer; even for the officer’s superior.
The one character that actually comes out of it badly is the rather self-centred writer in the centre of the whole web. He’s charming and complex. In many ways he’s the hero. But at the end he merely dedicates his book to the stasi officer that saved his life. It’s that sort of haughty arrogance of the artist, that somehow writing is enough. How about a paycheck? or an appartment? Or even a word of thanks face-to-face?
There’s a heartbreaking scene where the ex-Stasi man whose career was wiped out for what he did to save the writer, is seen delivering free papers in the post-Unification Germany. He still has nothing. The writer – who presumably has continued living his comfortable aritistic life – drives past him, thinks to speak to him, but drives on. Instead he writes a novel and 2 years later dedicates it anonymously to the ex-officer.
It’s a brilliant, complex and human film. And it reminds me of the central tenet of meditation practice: accept and pay attention to everything because everything is valid. Even the bad, the corrupt, the vile. They all exist and have to be given room. Push then to one side and they become vicious. They eat away at you and corrode. Bring them into the light and they show their 3D colours and human constellation. And from that light place you can move on and become more human not less.


  1. Courtney

    September 18, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    That’s a lesson that we should all learn, whether we
    practice meditation or not. Look at ‘the bad, the vile, the
    corrupt’ and show what it is. From there, a person can move
    on with their life, not letting the nasty and negative
    corrode and eat them whole. For if we do that, then we
    become what is nasty and vile ourselves.

  2. Jeff

    September 24, 2008 at 1:12 am

    We watched this, too, a few months ago. I enjoyed it. Esp. the last line where the ex-Stasi says that the book “is for him.”

  3. lori

    September 24, 2008 at 2:03 am

    It’s that sort of haughty arrogance of the artist, that somehow writing is enough. How about a paycheck? or an appartment? Or even a word of thanks face-to-face?

    That’s what swept my mind after I’d watched it. And then I retracted in shame thinking
    that it was arrogant of me to think of inadequacy of gratitude along materialistic lines. I guess
    it’s really the director’s conceit- an ‘art piece’ (not unlike the one he created, this movie) being the highest gift of gratitude.

  4. Jeff

    September 24, 2008 at 2:12 am

    Darn! I meant to ask if you have seen “Death and the Maiden” with Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver. If not, it is definitely worth watching. It’s something like “The Lives of Others.”

  5. Ronald

    October 30, 2008 at 6:37 am

    I may be late joining the party, but I’m fascinated that this is what you saw in the end of the film.
    I don’t recall sharing your point of view when I watched the film.

    The writer dedicates the book to the stasi officer who saved his life – indeed, so he should, it forms part of the fabric of the story told in his book.

    And, on the other side, I don’t believe that the stasi officer would value a cheque or an apartment higher than the genuine acknowledgement of what he did. I think this is an unrealistically materialist point of view. Showing affection (even in this impersonal way) can be hugely more valuable than any amount of money.

    In the end the characters show their humanity, for all it’s strength and weakness, a rare feat in cinematography.

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