“The Lives of Others“ is a remarkable debut from Germany’s FlorianHenckel von Donnersmarck. This was made in 2006, a German drama film (‘Das Leben der Anderen’ in German). This film won 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was applauded and earlier won seven Deutscher Filmpreis awards—including those for best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and best supporting actor—after setting a new record with 11 nominations. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 64th Golden Globe Awards. The Lives of Others was quite a global success with the budget of US$2 million, grossed more than US$77 million as of November 2007.
The Lives of Others is a clever, gripping Communist era drama about the monitoring of East Berlin by agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s secret police. Released 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall marking the end of the East German socialist state, it was the first of the visible film about the subject after a series of comedies such as Goodbye Lenin and Sonnenallee.
It stars Ulrich Mühe as Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, Ulrich Tukur as his superior Anton Grubitz, Sebastian Koch as the playwright Georg Dreyman, and Martina Gedeck as Dreyman’s lover, a prominent actress named Christa-Maria Sieland.
The Lives of Others deal with large issues, especially the state controlled secret service Statsi’s objective to know everything about everyone and the fear is depicted in this gripping narration about the tension in those transition days of the intellectual community is worth a note as this theme was widely applauded in Germany even as some criticized the humanization of Wiesler’s character. Many former East Germans were stunned by the factual accuracy of the film’s set and atmosphere, resembling a state which had merged with West Germany and subsequently vanished 16 years prior to the release.
The impact of such an approach on society is stifling and freedom of expression was under scanner. The scary and petty minded bureaucrats who ruled the everyday affair of people living in. The regime was nightmarish and as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Lives of Others provides a graphic illustration of the pain and suffering imposed on those forced to live under such a brutal, paranoid administration.
The Lives of Others set in East Berlin of 1984, the story opens with spymaster Captain Gerd Wiesler (Muehe) instructing apprentices with chilling calm on Stasi interrogation techniques. Gerd Wiesler is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch). He is one of the few artists to be read in the West, pose a challenge to the ex-Stasi minister Hempf (Thieme), who has designs on Dreyman’s beautiful actress girlfriend Christa Maria (Gedeck) sets the tone for surveillance which changes the lives of all involved.
Wiesler and his team bug the apartment of playwright Georg Dreyman, set up secret surveillance equipment in an attic and begin reporting Dreyman’s activities. Dreyman had escaped state scrutiny due to his pro-Communist views and international recognition. Wiesler soon learns the real reason behind the surveillance: Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf covets Dreyman’s girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland, and is trying to eliminate his rival. While Wiesler’s boss, Grubitz, sees an opportunity for advancement, Wiesler, an idealist, is horrified. Through his surveillance, Wiesler knows Dreyman and Sieland are in love. Hempf uses Sieland’s prescription-drug addiction to coerce her into having sex with him. After discovering Sieland’s relationship with Hempf, Dreyman implores her not to meet him again. Sieland refuses, fleeing to a nearby bar where Wiesler, posing as a fan, urges her to be true to herself. She returns home and reconciles with Dreyman.
In many views, though Dreyman is a soft loyal communist and supporter of the regime, Dreyman becomes disillusioned with the treatment of his colleagues by the state. At his birthday party, his friend Albert Jerska (a blacklisted theatrical director) gives him sheet music for Sonate vom Guten Menschen (Sonata for a Good Man). Shortly afterwards, Jerska hangs himself. Dreyman decides to publish an anonymous article on the East German suicide rate in Der Spiegel (German Magazine). The important point is that no suicide rates in the GDR have been published since 1977. Since all East German typewriters are registered, Dreyman then use a smuggled miniature typewriter which he hides in the floor of his apartment. Before talking openly in his apartment, Dreyman and his friends test whether the flat is bugged by feigning an attempt to smuggle one of their blacklisted friends through the Berlin Wall. Wiesler, having become sympathetic to Dreyman, does not alert the border guards, and the conspirators believe they are safe.
Dreyman’s article gets published, enraging the authorities. From an agent at Der Spiegel, the Stasi find a copy of the manuscript, typed in red ink. Hempf, livid at being jilted by Sieland, orders Grubitz to destroy her. Sieland is arrested when she tries to buy drugs at her dentist’s office, and blackmailed into revealing Dreyman’s authorship of the article. When the Stasi search his apartment, however, they do not find the typewriter. Grubitz then orders Wiesler to interrogate Sieland again, warning that failure will cost them both. Sieland recognizes Wiesler as the man from the bar, and tells him where the typewriter is hidden.
Grubitz and the Stasi return to Dreyman’s apartment, but the typewriter is gone; Wiesler having already seized the evidence. When Dreyman realizes that she informed on him, a guilt-stricken Sieland runs into the street and throws herself in front of an oncoming truck. Grubitz offers a perfunctory claim of sympathy and informs Dreyman that the investigation is over. Upon reaching the Stasi headquarters, he tells Wiesler that his career is over, and that he will be demoted to Department M, a dead-end position for disgraced agents. As he leaves, Grubitz discards a newspaper announcing Mikhail Gorbachev as the new leader of the Soviet Union.
In November 1989, Wiesler is steaming open letters in a cramped, windowless office when a co-worker tells him about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Realizing what this means, Wiesler and his co-workers silently get up and leave their office. Two years later, Hempf and Dreyman have a chance encounter. Dreyman asks Hempf why he was never monitored, and Hempf tells him he was, in fact, under full surveillance. After uncovering surveillance equipment in his apartment, Dreyman goes to the Stasi Archives to read the files on his activities. He reads that Sieland was released just before the second search, and could not have removed the typewriter. After re-reading the files, he discovers that a lot of false information has been written about his activities, and finds a fingerprint in red ink on the final typewritten report. He realizes that the writer, Stasi agent HGW XX/7, had knowingly concealed his illicit practices, such as the authorship of the suicide article, and had been the one who had removed the typewriter before the search team arrived. Dreyman searches for Wiesler and finds him, delivering mail, but at the last moment he decides not to approach him.
Two years later- Wiesler passes a bookstore window display promoting Dreyman’s new novel, Sonate vom Guten Menschen. He goes inside, opens a copy of the book and discovers it is dedicated “To HGW XX/7, with gratitude”. Wiesler buys the book. When the sales clerk asks if he wants it gift-wrapped he responds, “No, it’s for me.” The final scene shows the change that Wiesler’s face broadens as he listens to ‘Sonata for a Good Man’.
The Performances of the cast are very sensible. Ulrich Muehe as Wiesler, whose emotional turnaround is conveyed so efficiently. The other important star cast of both Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch are credible and sharp. The highpoint of the film is a very intense screenplay by Donnersmarck, the music score from Gabriel Yared and Stephan Moucha is striking and art direction by Silke Buhr, who shows the colorless world of the former East Germany, as much as the film characters are remarkable.
The film marks director FlorianHenckel von Donnersmarck’s thought-provoking plot which invites identification with the powerful and systematic surveillance carried by the state, spying on a perennial interest and the lives of high-ranking whistleblowers fall under a threat, this thrill with a frisson of danger and the warning that our lives are much more captivating than they really are. I see the director pursue a wonderful balance of a spy thriller and a political espionage story in all its transparence of intellectual perplexity torment the controlled system. A very well handled subject and indeed an electrifying view of The Lives of Others
- Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
- Produced by Max Wiedemann & Quirin Berg
- Written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
- Starring: Ulrich Mühe; Martina Gedeck; Sebastian Koch & Ulrich Tukur
- Music by Gabriel Yared & Stéphane Moucha
- Cinematography: Hagen Bogdanski
- Editing by Patricia Rommel
- Studio Wiedemann & Berg Bayerischer Rundfunk
- Distributed by Buena Vista International (Germany) & Sony Pictures Classics (United States)
- Release dates:23 March 2006
- Run time:137 minutes
- Country : Germany
- Language: German