Somewhat coincidentally to Chris Bowers' excellent post, I felt the unrelated urge to write about how much I really love America. Last night, I saw the movie "The Lives of Others" at the Myrna Loy Center here in Helena, and boy, this is a fantastic, must-see, blow-you-away kind of flick.
Contemporary Hollywood, beyond the too-short yet disturbing cameo of the GDR in the movie Spy Game, has not really provided a face-front portrayal of Soviet-controlled East Germany. As a 7th Grader when the Berlin Wall was taken down, I knew something important had happened, but didn't know how important the moment was because I never really knew what East Germany or totalitarianism in general really was, except for the stories from the early part of the 20th century my 80+ year old grandfather told me.
While there certainy have been many pop culture, sensationalist American films about the U.S.-Soviet Cold War and potential end-of-the-world nuclear scenarios (see Red Dawn, War Games, Rocky IV or Crimson Tide for reference), there were very few movies specifically about mundane life under communism and in the Eastern Bloc in particular. "The Lives of Others" is a journey into the gray, quotidian world of Soviet domination - and I came away (as I often do from movies about the very recent past) thankful for the country I live in.
Watching a film like this reminds the American viewer of just how regular it is for people in other countries to experience unreasonable searches of their private lives, surveillance, and cruel and unusual punishments for things (such as freedom of the press) that we take for granted as American citizens.
There are, no doubt, a lot of things wrong with the people who today control the levers of power in America. But there are simultaneously a lot of things to be thankful for that are inherent in America as a country - things that outlive even the most zealous of tyrants in the White House. When you watch "The Lives of Others", all of those things to be thankful for as an American - freedom to write what we want, freedom to have different opinions, freedom to form political parties, to name just a few - come right to the viewers' mind, because they are confronted with the disturbing reality that most people in the world have never been able to savor those freedoms for themselves.
In the era of the blogosphere and the Internet, it is beyond jarring to watch a movie depitcing a man having to evade gun-wielding secret police and hide typed manuscripts in secret briefcase compartments in order to get his words published. America, even with its pay-to-play political culture, has, at least up until now, somehow managed to resist the brutal assaults on democracy that have afflicted most other parts of the globe. And while our country is not perfect, such steadfast resistance to true totalitarianism in the face of world trends is yet more testament to how amazing our country really is.