The Lives of Others

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The Lives of Others

(Das Leben der Anderen)
2006, 137 minutes
directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

You may or may not notice that this film is being screened in place of what was scheduled, that being Fanny & Alexander, a late film by Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, Fanny & Alexander would have made a great contrast to the earlier films in the series, being a study in the late style of an established and accomplished career of an international moviemaker. Not only did Fanny & Alexander win four Academy Awards in 1984, including Best Foreign Picture, but the movie was also one that Bergman himself was especially proud—enough to make him consider quitting filmmaking altogether, as he tells in this amusing anecdote:

“Making ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was such a joy that I thought that feeling will never come back. I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn’t understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.”

I think that’s a fairly amazing idea to have at so late a stage in life, as Ingmar Bergman was when he said that, that you only have one love in your life and that once you’ve had it, it’s hard to continue. It’s a powerful idea, and one that has certainly propelled many an artist towards whatever pursuits they’ve endeavored towards. The idea that there is one perfect love that may be attained is certainly a potent idea, but maybe also fairly dangerous.

However, we’re not going to be watching Fanny & Alexander. The film is over 3 hours long and I know nobody has that kind of time in this kind of place. Instead, we’re going to watch a newer film, a film that potentially has more relevance towards architecture.

Towards the beginning of the semester I wrote about the relationship between film and architecture, and the nature of the cinematic apparatus as an implicit subject with political and therefore organizational implications. This film, a German film which won this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is about surveillance in mid-century Germany. Surveillance has lately been, in conjunction with the ubiquity and incomprehensible power of common electronics, taking on the presence of another metaphysical subject.

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Michel Foucault wrote about a certain physical manifestation of this idea when he popularized Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison in his book, Discipline and Punish. The panopticon and what, for lack of a better term, we’ll call the idea of surveillance, both share the idea of the political power of vision. And they both assert the power of a presence of absence. But they way that surveillance is different from the panopticon is in the ubiquity of surveillance; it is, in effect, a new omnipresence distinct from theocentricism. What this heralds is uncertain. Even politically it is uncharted legal territory, as anybody who’s been paying attention to the national currents events is aware. Politics and architecture have always been connected, though, so it is no doubt worthwhile to spend some time pondering the culture into which we’re entering.

The next film architecture theme I will be writing about is “The Future is Asian.”

Originally written November 27, 2007

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One Response to “The Lives of Others”

  1. It cuts both ways. . . | no ideas but in things Says:

    [...] of the past obsolete. I wrote about this a bit in my review of the WWII-era surveillance film, The Lives of Others (2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), an excellent [...]

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