August 27, 2007

The Lives of Others / Das Leben Der Anderen review

Matt: 5 Stars
Four Stars

Length: 137min


Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s secret police listened to your secrets.

Review by Matt:

The Lives of Others is an astounding film by first-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It is set in 1980’s East Berlin – a very bleak place. The Berlin Wall still divides Germany into East and West. East Germany’s notorious secret police – the Stasi – monitors citizens in its declared quest to “know everything” and to uncover and eliminate any subversive threats to its “socialist paradise”.

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an experienced and dedicated Stasi officer. He is a true believer. When he is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Wiesler sets about the task with humourless efficiency. With the audio bugs installed, he nestles in a hidden niche of Dreyman’s building and listens covertly to the lives of the writer and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), expecting to uncover something seditious.

What he does discover is that the close experience with the lives of these people has an effect on him. Much about the couple’s life contrasts to the austerity of Wiesler’s own life – the touching frailty of their romance, the presence of art and music. As he listens from his spy-nest, Wiesler unexpectedly finds himself tempted to use his privileged position to intrude into the lives of those he is supposed to be observing.

The resulting story is drama at its best. It unfolds like a thrilling novel. Georg is actually not one to rock the boat, unlike some of his dissident colleagues. But during the period of surveillance, tragedy jolts him into considering a subversive plot to expose some of the egregious truth about this Orwellian state. A perilous move. Christa-Maria is also in danger, coerced into a secret romance with the exploitative and swine-like Minister Hempf. And while Wiesler listens to it all, behind his inexpressive face he is pondering his own relationship with this authoritarian world. The audience, as the privileged, omniscient voyeur, nervously watches the fateful interconnections between the characters, as each minute sinks them further into the Stasi’s hazardous mire. The Lives of Others relentlessly builds a high-tension political and moral drama that turns our stomachs and spins our moral compasses. As is common, the tension was enough for Tracy to flee the room, missing some of the crucial moments.

Von Donnersmarck pulls us smartly through his finely written plot without any needless flashiness. The authentic characters splash colour into the drab totalitarian landscape. They’re thoughtful and complex, and brought to life by superior acting, so that we’re unavoidably drawn into their universe. Mühe is an especially riveting Stasi drone. From this foundation, the film eventually delivers us to what must be one of the most meaningful and moving conclusions in cinema.

The Lives of Others is not just a picture of life under the Stasi. It is a film about human nature, its depth, and its potential range of morality. It gives us much to contemplate about people and their decisions, decency and wickedness, creativity and relationships. It is precise and intelligent, thrilling, moving, and brilliantly scripted and acted. Like good art should, it will leave you with profound feelings that will linger long after the credits have rolled. It did for me – and I think that this is a rare five star film.



  1. R.i.p. Ulrich Mühe. He unfortunately died some months ago. Great movie!

  2. I would like to purchase/obtain the original movie script in German of the film “Das Leben der Anderen” (The life of others). I would appreciate if someone would kindly indicate how does one do this. I’ve been searching the Web to no avail. Thank you in advance for your help.


  3. This movie had a lot of dimension to it. It was emotional, deep, dramatic, dark, historical, etc. Weiser works for the Stasi (secret police) and is assigned a mission to bug Georg Dreyman and Christa-Maria Sieland’s apartment, and spy on them all day, everyday to find out anything that could be suspicious or used against them. Bystander helping is demonstrated in this film when Weiser recognizes his wrong doing by invading on the couple’s life. He gains respect for them and helps them out by not reporting much information back to Grubitz that could be used against them. Weiser even lied to Grubitz that they didn’t need to spy on them at night anymore because there wasn’t much suspicion. In the end, while Dreyman lost Christa, Weiser saved Dreyman many times. Dreyman recognizes that by going through old files on himself, and is inspired to write a book about it.

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