Thursday, 28 January 2010

Socialist Single

Last night B.A. and I watched The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) again. I first watched it with my last boyfriend Volker, which I mention to underscore the transitory nature of most romantic relationships. Anyway, Volker saw The Lives of Others from the perspective of a German whose grandmother fled the East, and B.A. saw it from the perspective of an actor who loves music.

Here on the internet, we don't worry about secret police: we willingly offer up our secrets to spies. In perusing the Daily Mail, I came across a woman who wrote about an affair with a married man, claiming she had a "Catholic" need for confession or self-flagellation. She is 43, and still hasn't found lasting love, and writes a sex column for G.Q. She's a very beautiful woman, but her chances of marrying a Nice Catholic Man seem rather slim, given her habit of confessing her sexual sins for pay.*

But such is the Decadent West. In the Repressive East of 1984, a Stasi (East German secret police) captain named Wiesler (Ulriche Muelre) is given the task of spying on a playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland, to catch out Dreyman in some unsocialist activity. As a matter of fact, Dreyman is a committed socialist; his real crime is being the boyfriend of the woman with whom Wiesler's gross chief Gruebitz is obsessed.

Wiesler is also a committed socialist, and it is clear that he has been passed over for promotion because he just does his job efficiently and doesn't suck up to people in power. In the Stasi cafeteria, he sits down at a table reserved for subordinates, against the wishes of his piggish friend/superior, who indicates the bosses' table.

"Socialism must begin somewhere," says Wiesler drily.

Knowing that he is spying on Dreyman and Sieland just so that his chief can break them up, Wiesler begins to help them as he can. And, unbeknownst to them as they innocently go about life in their bugged flat, the couple introduce the man to a rich world of literature and music far removed from his ugly high-rise and ill-fitting grey jacket.

Wiesler is a single man; his own flat is spartan. Suddenly overcome with loneliness, he books in an appointment with the local Party prostitute, a maternal-looking woman who does her job just as efficiently as any Stasi agent, and refuses to stay longer: she has another appointment at 1:30 AM. The next day Wiesler, the stiff, straightbacked, man of Party integrity, kneels by Dreyman and Sieland's rumpled bed and touches the coverlet wistfully.

But Wiesler is neither bitter nor envious. His chief, of course, is a self-deceiving idiot, who thinks that he has what "our little Christa needs," something he has decided her beloved Dreyman doesn't have. Despite his great job, his wedding ring and his seemingly endless power, Gruebitz is corrosively envious of the playwright. Not Wiesler.

And this fascinates me for, as I know all too well, the great temptations for the long-term Single are envy, bitterness and self-absorption. Yet our Socialist Single, our Stasi Single, is touched and ennobled by his clandestine witness to love and the lives of others.

*Let us be clear: I'm not throwing stones at this woman for her sexual sins. It's just that I think that writing about them is terribly, terribly naive or foolish for a woman who wants to marry one day.

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