The bourgeoisie have far more interesting lives than the members of the socialist state apparatus. Members of the socialist state apparatus are desperately, helplessly enthralled by the goings-on of the would-be bourgeoisie (or the "creative class"), so much so that when they lean forward, fascinated, with headphones on, surveilling, they must bolt upright like good commie German workers when their subordinate comrade comes in to take over on the shift. The socialist state apparatus lies and deceives by repeating mere truisms and demanding adherence. The socialist state apparatus destroys the spirit of its people. The socialist state apparatus cracks because of the good or guilty consciences of some of its number, who have heard the call of the demos and must respond in earnest. (The liberal democratic capitalist state does not lie, cheat, steal, or demand fealty.) Deep down, Man wants Freedom. You cannot chain the human spirit.
More shallow, less nuanced, but more honest, more intelligent in its superficial operations: another film about the threat of home invasion, Panic Room.
The Lives of Others has the negative virtue of avoiding certain cliches about the Iron Curtain: that all life behind it took place in grayscale (it's a visually pretty, bold-colored film), that one was constantly at the mercy of all amenities that are in short supply. (An old instructor of mine once pointed out how a scene in Tarkovsky's Mirror is in fact a joke at the expense of Soviet plumbing...) In The Lives of Others, our central victim-characters go to parties, have friends over, they have sizable book collections, roomy apartments, smoke and drink. Indeed, this negative virtue is simultaneously an added bonus. For how better to communicate the threat of devilish Stasi surveillance in 2006 to Western arthouse audiences than to make the sympathetic characters put-upon creative class types? (Keep in mind, too, that our present decade sees '80s retro in vogue.)