In In These Times:
Like so many other films depicting the harshness of Communist regimes, The Lives of Others misses their true horror. How so? First, what sets the film’s plot in motion is the corrupt minister of culture, who wants to get rid of the top German Democratic Republic (GDR) playwright, Georg Dreyman, so he can pursue unimpeded an affair with Dreyman’s partner, the actress Christa-Maria. In this way, the horror that was inscribed into the very structure of the East German system is relegated to a mere personal whim. What’s lost is that the system would be no less terrifying without the minister’s personal corruption, even if it were run by only dedicated and “honest” bureaucrats.
Equally troublesome is the film’s portrayal of Dreyman. He is idealized in the opposite direction—a great writer, both honest and sincerely dedicated to the Communist system, who is personally close to the top regime figures. (We learn that Margot Honnecker, the Party leader’s wife, gave him a book by Solzhenitsyn strictly prohibited to ordinary people.) One cannot but recall here a witty formula of life under a hard Communist regime: Of the three features—personal honesty, sincere support of the regime and intelligence—it was possible to combine only two, never all three. If one was honest and supportive, one was not very bright; if one was bright and supportive, one was not honest; if one was honest and bright, one was not supportive. The problem with Dreyman is that he does combine all three features.
To ask some obvious questions: If he was such an honest and powerful writer, how come he did not get into trouble with the regime much earlier?