A conversation with von Donnersmarck

The film is an ode to the power of art and in this interview with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck he explains what he was trying to achieve with The Lives of Others. Here is an extract:

“What we are and what we display to the world is what we choose to reveal. It is the artist, he states, who would go into those dark parts of the soul where normally you never shine any light, find that part and use it and display it in their art. And I think that holds true for writers. While writing something, I’m kind of acting out these parts in my head, and if I don’t take that from inside then it won’t be true. It just will not be true.”

All this begs the question, what is it about art that makes it so dangerous to those in power? “I think it is related to exactly that thing we were just talking about,” answers von Donnersmarck. “An authoritarian society, a totalitarian regime, will try and tell you which of those facets of your Jungian character you are going to display. They have a certain vision of what mankind should be, and this is what they try and force you to do.”

“Now comes the artist, putting you on a sort of virtual reality ride of the soul for the soul and then has you see that this [forced] reality is not what you are really about. There is no way you can force a [person] into their old way of being after they have recognized that they are not what society wants them to be. And that is very scary to a totalitarian regime, so they try to weed out the [artists] who take people on that virtual reality ride of the soul.”

“And this is what the Stasi always did. They tried to get rid of actors and writers and directors who did not stick to the government’s ideas of how people were going to be. They hated real individualism, because individualism is just far too complicated and dangerous for a [government] to deal with. Even with 300,000 police officers they couldn’t keep individualism in check. They like people, or certain groups of people, to behave in more or less the same way because then they don’t have to deal or cope with them, they can predict their behavior.”

“They hate unpredictability. They hate anything which is in any way different. Since real art encourages you to be different, encourages you to recognize that you are different and special, and that’s in a way the essence of art. I mean, art is the perfect antidote to any sort of collectivism, so it is just the natural enemy [to totalitarianism], which is why I think the art that rose to the top in the GDR for me isn’t art at all. It is something that vaguely resembles art, but it is not at all the deep kind of experience that will help you explore your soul.”

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