The Lives of Others (2006)

92% – Critics
96% – Audience

The Lives of Others Storyline

Gerd Wiesler is an officer with the Stasi, the East German secret police. The film begins in 1984 when Wiesler attends a play written by Georg Dreyman, who is considered by many to be the ultimate example of the loyal citizen. Wiesler has a gut feeling that Dreyman can’t be as ideal as he seems, and believes surveillance is called for. The Minister of Culture agrees but only later does Wiesler learn that the Minister sees Dreyman as a rival and lusts after his partner Christa-Maria. The more time he spends listening in on them, the more he comes to care about them. The once rigid Stasi officer begins to intervene in their lives, in a positive way, protecting them whenever possible. Eventually, Wiesler’s activities catch up to him and while there is no proof of wrongdoing, he finds himself in menial jobs – until the unbelievable happens.

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The Lives of Others Movie Reviews

We all have something to hide.

Das Leben der Anderen (2006) (The Lives of Others) was brilliantly written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The film is a taut thriller. It’s also a dramatization of what happened in East Germany–and could happen here–if we allow the government access to every aspect of our lives. Ulrich Mühe stars as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler of the Stasi–the dreaded secret police. The Captain is so talented in interrogation that he gives lectures on interrogation techniques to Stasi cadets.

For complex reasons, Wiesler is investigating a prominent couple– Christa-Maria Sieland, a beautiful and talented actor (Martina Gedeck), and Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) an accomplished author and playwright.

Artists in East Germany were strictly controlled by the state. Some of them played an intricate cat-and-mouse game with the Stasi–going just far enough to attract notice, but not so far as to bring about arrest. The problem with the cat-and-mouse game was that the cats had very sharp teeth, which they didn’t hesitate to use. Blacklisting was just one of the state’s weapons–a single word from a high official and you never acted again, or your plays or music were never performed. Although both Christa-Maria and Georg have been careful and discrete, they haven’t been careful and discrete enough to escape the Stasi’s interest.

The movie, although in color, looks as if it were shot in black and white. The mood and the locations are drab and muted. Obviously, the color reflects the political and social situation of the time. The camerwork and editing were outstanding. Every other aspect of the film is equally excellent, particularly the work of the supporting actors.

Not only does this film represent a riveting thriller, but it provides a powerful political message. After you’ve seen The Lives of Others, you won’t keep quiet when someone tells you “I don’t care if the government taps my phone; I’ve got nothing to hide.”

This is an extraordinary film–well acted and directed, with a compelling plot and message. Das Leben der Anderen is the finest movie I’ve seen this year. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

Masterpiece, a unique lesson on humanity

This is the first full feature film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and won him a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award as well as an uncountable number of other awards all around the world. The film runs for roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes and does not drag a single second. The reason for this is FHvD’s outstanding script and a cast that delivers 100% from minute 1, also including all the actors in smaller roles such as Thomas Thieme, who gives a great performance of an influential figure not scared of using his political power to his own sexual advantage. The standout is Ulrich Mühe showing us his character’s transformation from a ruthless Stasi (secret police) agent into a caring human being who puts his own freedom at risk in order to oppose a political system built on fear that is as rotten as it gets and protect the people suffering from it. Merely from the political perspective, in my opinion, this is a movie that everybody needs to see, especially those with an interest in history. And even for those who are not particularly fond of political films, this is highly recommended as the characters and their interaction are written and portrayed with such wit and accuracy that I am not shy of calling it the best German movie ever made. And I have seen lots.

I cannot even mention a favorite scene, there are just too many: the joke at the cafeteria table, the boy in the elevator, the interrogation between Mühe and Gedeck, threatening the neighbor(‘s daughter), the red color on the files near the end, the suicide references and so on. Or I could simply mention the entire epilogue, i.e. everything that happens in the movie after the Fall of the Wall. When Dreyman reads his file or how Wiesler enters the bookstore in the end are maybe the most moving moment of this film. Wiesler’s last words are completely genius and I wish all films could end on such a high note. In general, his character and his transformation are one of the most interesting things I have seen in movies in the last years. There are many moments one could analyze, so I will just mention one. Pay attention to how he is looking for real togetherness during his meeting with the prostitute and thus cannot understand the affair between Gedeck’s and Thieme’s character. His faith in the system crumbles more and more as he realizes everybody is just interested in themselves, while he initially believes in the idea(l) of socialism. But the people in his organization are so different compared to everything he believes in that finally the whole concept of the GDR crumbles in his mind before it crumbles in reality. There is no point anymore in punishing the people who offend his country as he realizes they are the ones who are correct and he uses all the means in his power to help them without becoming part of an investigation himself.

It’s so sad to see that Ulrich Mühe died so quickly after this film, even before his posthumous BAFTA nomination. But we should be grateful to see the legacy he left us here. What surprises me a bit is that Henckel von Donnersmarck has worked so little in recent years. He only made one movie in the nine years since “Das Leben der Anderen” (a forgettable thriller with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) and there is nothing upcoming on his body of work either. Maybe he really was a one-trick pony, but boy was that trick magnificent. A must-see. Perfect score.

The ghost of authoritarian regimes

I’ve been taking German lessons for about 2 months now, and since movies were great in helping me learn English language I’m always looking for German films to watch (as well as German music to listen to) in order to educate my ears.

Anyway, I went to this place where I get all sort of rare movies and this one caught my attention… and I had no idea it got the Oscar for foreign language film this year! So I watched it without prejudice and… what did I find? A MASTERPIECE! This is the kind of movie that gets your attention from the first moment, and makes you interested in understanding the characters’ psyche, which is very varied: you have the idealistic good guys, the idealistic bad guys, the people that broad their minds understanding that no political dogma is better than individual freedom, etc. And even though the movie has very tough moments it is all so well done and presented with such a good taste that in the end you feel some sort of relieved.

In this present day, when the ghost of authoritarian regimes still fly over our heads (in my country we’re getting closer and closer to that reality), this movie will make you think about how important love, life and freedom are.

A must see!