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The Survival of the Individual Under the Cloud of Totalitarianism

  • Aug 25, 2007
  • by
Das Leben der Anderen (The Live of Others) is a powerful film that opens a window to the West of what life was like in East Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall. It is a tense yet balanced work by newcomer writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who manages to present a tense story of espionage, suspense, intrigue, and political danger without the need for car chases, explosions, gunfire, or any of the usual accoutrements that pulse through other stories of this nature. Instead von Donnersmarck shows us the interior lives of his characters, both those working with the East German government and Secret Police and those who struggled to survive individuality. One of the primary jobs of the Secret Police (Stasi) was to spy on informers and those who would leak information about East Germany to the West. One fact that was kept under lock and key was the high rate of suicide, especially among artists who could not bear the crushing eye of the Eastern police, that would be devastating information if leaked into the press of the West: this forms the nidus for the story of this film.

It is 1984 and one agent - Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe - who sadly died in July 2007 of stomach cancer) is assigned the duty of spying on popular playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his live-in girlfriend, brilliant actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Dreyman is a friend of blacklisted director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert) and when Jerska commits suicide Dreyman feels compelled to get in the information to the West into a popular magazine in hopes that action will be taken. Wiesler alters his spying routine when he discovers that the Stasi official to whom he reports has different designs on Georg and Christa-Maria and his spirit shifts subtly in support of the artists. It is this inner struggle within Wiesler that alters the manner in which his spying information is reported and Wiesler's courageous deeds alter the Stasi plans to destroy the artists' venture. The manner in which Wiesler interplays with the Stasi and covers for the artists is a towering example of the dignity of the individual human soul threatened by the worst of circumstances. The results of Wiesler's decisions alter with the fall of the Wall in 1989 in a deeply touching yet very subtle way.

The technical aspects of this film - cinematography, pacing, lighting, editing, and the splendid musical scored by Gabriel Yared - are as fine as any film created by seasoned directors. The manner in which von Donnersmarck keeps every actor focused on the inner personality, as much by body language and silences as well as by dialogue, is astonishingly fine. This is a fascinating story, told with elegant understatement and most worthy of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, August 07

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More The Lives of Others reviews
review by . July 01, 2011
A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film
"Did you know that there are just five types of artists? Your guy, Dreyman, is a Type 4, a 'hysterical anthropocentrist.' Can't bear being alone, always talking, needing friends. That type should never be brought to trial. They thrive on that. Temporary detention is the best way to deal with them. Complete isolation and no set release date. No human contact the whole time, not even with the guards. Good treatment, no harassment, no abuse, no scandals, nothing they could write about …
review by . October 06, 2010
   Auteur Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck created The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). Surveillance plays a huge role in this film weighing in at a bit over 2 hours. From time to time, the film can be as stagnant as endless surveillance. However . . .      The film is set principally from the middle of 1984 through the beginning of 1985 in East Germany (DDR, or GDR depending on your language of acronym). The Lives of Others is the tale of one member of the …
review by . September 03, 2009
A brilliant film about life in East Berlin, under the GDR, German Democratic Republic, before reunification. It reminds me of my time in Poland and East Berlin before the Wall fell. Love the dated fashion. The story, the writing, the acting, the relevance rank very high. It's so worth viewing.
review by . June 03, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
American college campuses overflow with devotees of Communism. The media are loaded with people who think Che Guevera was a hero and that the United States was wrong for resisting Communism.'     And then along comes a movie like "The Lives Of Others". Yes, it is a dramatization. No, the Stasi did not lavish two or more full time agents on a relatively minor dissident like the playwright here, Georg Dreyman. Yes, Communist bureaucrats did destroy the lives of others, as the Minister …
review by . January 11, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Brilliant story, brilliant way of telling it      Cons: Might be too slow and subtle for a casual viewer      The Bottom Line: 30 words aren't enough. If you are a movie fan willing to pay attention to a deliberate, slow pace, then you should enjoy this film.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      Auteur Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck created The Lives …
review by . November 28, 2007
Having never heard of this movie a week ago, I stumbled onto it and am so thankful for dumb luck. It's not often I find myself obsessing over a movie rental but that's what happened here. 3 viewings and wanting more, at the very least I'll rent this again soon. In the end, I'll buy it on dvd. I wish I could have had a chance to see it in a theater. A quiet, textural movie filled with subtle shadings and emotional color where there is little visual color, The Lives of Others gets deeper every time …
review by . September 17, 2007
This is a well-made, very well-acted movie. As a personal bonus to me, the German was Hochdeutsch enough for me to understand it. I was moved to fears and tears by moments of it. However, it is significantly flawed by unrealism of a Hollywood sort not far from James Bond or 24. The bugging of the writer's apartment, during a couple hours of absence, could not have been anything like the hi-tech system shown in the movie. I traveled in East Germany before the Fall of the Wall, and I worked in both …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #40
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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