International Oscar Showdown 2007 — The Departed vs The Lives Of Others

The 79th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were The Departed and The Lives Of Others
The poster for The Departed
The poster for The Departed
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Boys will be boys

The cast is extremely skewed towards men, with Hollywood heavyweights Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone and Mark Walhberg in supporting roles. With all these blokes bowling around, it’s no surprise a prominent theme in the film is toxic masculinity, featuring incessant alpha bants about fucking each other’s mothers, grabbing dicks, and sticking cocks in each other’s mouths, like proper heterosexual men.

Vera Farmiga being directed to look wistfully at a banana before bringing up her boyfriend’s erectile dysfunction

Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe

Confusingly, their fling precedes Madolyn’s announcement to Sullivan of a pregnancy. Considering we are previously presented with Sullivan’s sexual inadequacy, are we meant to wonder: ‘who is the father?’ Why then is he so happy that his girlfriend is mysteriously up the duff? And why does she reveal the pregnancy to him using a scan of the baby — one that she claims can identify the sex? That would mean she’s three months in, and had kept it a secret from Sullivan while giving up wine, shellfish and hot baths. He’s not much of a detective, is he?

Alec Baldwin grabbing his crotch for no reason

Settle the Scorsese

If it weren’t for the apparent widespread acclaim for the film, I would have assumed the Academy voted for The Departed as a corrective to those previous years in which its director, Martin Scorsese, had a film nominated for Best Picture that didn’t win. Indeed, Scorsese had endured an astonishing series of snubs — and of films that are now considered some of the finest American movies ever made: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Place those films next to the ones that beat them to Best Picture — Rocky, Ordinary People and Dances With Wolves — and you start to wonder what voters had against him.

Question Marx

Up against this hot mess is German film The Lives Of Others, a tense examination of life in the German Democratic Republic during the 1980s. Under the socialist regime, state officials use the secret police (the Stasi) to spy on enemies of Communism, reporting any infringements of political thought, and imprisoning dissidents without trial.

Poster for The Lives Of Others
Poster for The Lives Of Others
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others

Top secret

It’s remarkable how the theme of secrecy is woven into every thread of the film. You’ve got the secret police, within which Weisler keeps secrets from his superior; the rape that Christa keeps from Dreyman; the writer’s wish to reveal the GDR’s secrets to the west, to release the truth; the Stasi bullying Dreyman’s nosey neighbour into keeping their visit to his apartment a secret; and Dreyman asking that same neighbour to help with his tie behind Christa’s back, so his girlfriend doesn’t know he isn’t capable of tying it. Can the neighbour keep a secret, Dreyman asks. “Of course” is the reply, laced with dramatic irony.

Forgive and forget

Speaking of this humanistic approach, criticism in Germany of the film was concentrated primarily on the character of Weisler, who is shown to be somewhat redeemed (and far from punished), despite having enthusiastically participated in the GDR’s climate of fear and oppression. His small acts of resistance certainly don’t weigh greatly on the scales of redemption; in fact, his interventions to save Dreyman inadvertently harm Christa. Nevertheless, he is rewarded with the dedication of Dreyman’s book years after the Berlin Wall falls.

Retrospective result

I expect you know to which film I’m going to give the victory. I’ve rarely been this scathing about one of the winners before — Argo, maybe? Green Book, sure — so you’d be right. The Lives of Others is a worthy winner.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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