William F. Buckley

I return from one week's leave from my column, grateful for my old roost and in the mood to repay a favor by granting one, or attempting to do so. You must have the narrative of what happened one day last week.

I was at work, with an assistant, on a long project, a book about the Goldwater campaign and the events leading up to it. At noon I had an e-mail from my oldest friend, a historian-belletrist, a knighted Englishman, whose message was that I must interrupt whatever I was wasting time on in order to catch a particular movie. The title he gave me was "The Lives of Others." My companion hadn't heard of it either. Still, so urgent was my friend's recommendation that we instructed Google to advise us where, within reasonable reach, we could find it.

We were given one theater 15 miles east of my study, at an odd hour of the evening. But west about the same distance was a matinee at 4:15. So we threw duty to the winds and arrived at the theater in Mamaroneck, N.Y., which like most modern theaters husbands five different movies, requiring you to specify which it is you are there to see.

We were ushered into a dark chamber entirely empty. The ticket seller told us that if we had arrived two minutes later, the theater would have been shut. "If there's no one here, we don't show the film."

Two hours and 20 minutes later we came away. The house was still empty. I turned to my companion and said, "I think that is the best movie I ever saw." He is only 23 years old, but he nodded his agreement.

The movie is German, and in German. There is a prejudice, perhaps understandable, against going to see a movie made in a foreign language. But good subtitle writers capture your mind and heart early in the engagement, and after 10 minutes you are as if tuned into your native language. This is so of this German film, which depicts life in Berlin in 1984 under the famous Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, who were 10 times as numerous as their brother Gestapo had been.

The watchword of the Stasi was information . They would use all their powers, which were plenary, to press their totalitarian thumb down on any expression of life in East Germany. In this case, they had their eye on a playwright who sought to write about the way he and his fellow East Germans lived.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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