Freedom Is Untidy....,
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all the presidents' days...,
das leben der anderen:
Pardon the film review and potential spoilers, but let me tell you how much I love my girl. When she says she's rented a movie for Greeting Card Association Day, and leaves me to the gaudy apprehension of some sub-par romantic comedy - a carefully laid trap for my cynicism, innocently tromping untrompled snow, to get strung up in a snare and dooming my already sad prospects - she doesn't disappoint. No, she finds some foreign film in the language of romance. It's full of fine comedy and passionate action that is presumably intercourse, injected into a bizarre parody of some allegorical postmortem America.
Never mind that it's really a depressing, sad drama about the horrors of East German communism - all that was real enough - it's just that looking back on that feels so crude and primitive compared to what has been developed by our advanced, shimmering society's civil servants. While this example explains the gist of a nation without habeas corpus, it'd be, perhaps, too blatant to state on public record:
"You think we imprison people on a whim? If you think our humanistic system imprisons people on a whim, that alone would justify your arrest."
Who knows what they really say in private: our fictional East German agents reserve that doublespeak for the interrogation room, while our really-existing CIA has destroyed the video.
Perhaps hunger strikes don't have the opportunity to become acts of terrorism, but the film's mcguffin incorporates the vulgarity of rectifying "suicide" as "homicide". Young, idealistic students object to sleep deprivation as inhuman torture, but the instructor corrects this naivety, noting that much can be learned from detainees under stress: if only you read the properly approved psychological tea leaves. False confessions will be punished as perjury - a primitive tactic compared to using false confessions as a causus belli for war. Blacklists? We don't do blacklists. No personal tick or relationship will remain unturned for leverage. Systematic, institutionalized torture has been perfected and made humane. One can even enjoy the reverse chronological irony of the protaganist's demotion from secret police to postal officer as making a nod to our potential past histories.
To really make a stretch of it, just make some elaborate prediction about modern American ghost towns reaching for the dismal heights of Eastern Block architecture. Should the superior quality of our empty business parks disincline you from such an absurd comparison, then there's always the infrastructure.
From the vantage point of massive data mining programs John Ashcroft used to oppose before he got that promotion, one has to appreciate the difficulties GDR agents had physically bugging an apartment: holding threats and bribes over the heads of observant neighbors so they don't squeal on the state is something akin to the annoyance of eventually having to fill out paperwork to satisfy some meddling, rubber-stamping FISA judge. Now that that's no longer necessary any comparison to all-night paper shuffling scenes from The Wire is rendered obsolete. Instead we have a situation in which the ease of bugging results in a flood of noise any beleaguered Stasi agency would protest, sure as the FBI.
More presciently, there's no precedent at all for the hero's unrestricted access to his files at the end of the film. The present filers against the warrantless wiretapping program, and all those who were spied on that haven't filed, will probably have to wait at least three decades before such information becomes partially accessible by FOIA requests - like, for instance, the information that they were spied on at all. If telecom immunity passes the House members of the Joint Committee, the victims will probably never know about it, because by the time they'd be allowed to find out they'll probably be rather dead. It will be a gaping blackhole for decades with who knows what inside it.
That's the half of it. From the, somehow, most disturbing rape scene I can remember seeing to the idle lunchroom chitchat, the portrayals of the party bureaucracy might as well be portrayals of the mid-management office politics of any ole'fashioned American corporation. It gave me warm feelings for flexible labor markets: maybe the American system operates something like a Warsaw Pact that had adopted open borders for blacklisted economic migrants.
Dystopian art always incorporates these features into their frameworks, and it's always been a particular pastime to serve them with dire foreboding to Western audiences. But here, look and see, this is not some dystopian pastiche, it's a redemptive fairytale about the chance possibilities of liberty and mutual aid inside a totalitarian state, rendered full of hope and optimism and life: it shouldn't sound like a laughing death moan.
That's just where we're at. A ten, for a fine film on its own merits. In better years it will serve as a bitter condemnation of the worst, as much for Americans as for the lives of others.