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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » The Lives of Others » User review

A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film

  • Jul 1, 2011
Rating:
+5
"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 later. After 10 months, we release. Suddenly, that guy won't cause us any more trouble. Know what the best part is? Most type 4s we've processed in this way never write anything again. Or paint anything, or whatever artists do. And that without any use of force. Just like that. Kind of like a present." That's a high-ranking Stasi officer discussing a subject of mutual interest with Gerd Weisler, a dedicated Stasi policeman and interrogator.

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is one of the best films I've seen in a long, long time. It's sad, thoughtful and redemptive. It deals with major themes. We're in East Germany a few years before the fall of the Berlin wall. The Stasi are everywhere, watching everyone and punishing in brutal or subtle ways anyone who might be even an implied threat to the government. Their greatest tool is the system of informers that reaches everywhere, people who may relay indiscretions to the Stasi because they believe in what they are doing, but more often are compromised into doing so. People are given terrible choices to either work with the Stasi as informers or see their careers or their children's futures destroyed. One-third of the East German population is kept under Stasi surveillance. Everyone, it seems, is being watched by someone.
 
Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is a playwright who has made his accommodations with the regime, has won awards and has learned not to go too far. The mere fact that he is seen as reliable makes him a subject of Stasi interest. That, and because his lover, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), is coveted by a powerful official who wants Dreyman ruined. Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), a dedicated, colorless Stasi officer, noted for his reliability and interrogation skills, is assigned the job of monitoring Dreyman. This means installing bugs in Dreyman's apartment where Dreyman lives with Sieland, setting up 24 hour monitoring, recording everything and preparing reports. Wiesler takes his share of listening in. Weisler seems to have no purpose but his dedication to the ideals of the East German system, but even he can see the corruption of those ideals. He has no friends to speak of except his boss, who knows which way the wind can shift. Dreyman, on the other hand, is a handsome man of talent who loves Christa and who has seen a close friend and talented director banned from the theater for speaking too clearly.
 
Dreyman gradually finds the conscience he had put on hold in order to be successful. Wiesler gradually finds himself, through listening in, drawn to an awareness of the compromises and corruption he knows has seeped into a system he once believed in. Even more subtly, he finds himself drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Christa-Maria. Slowly, cautiously and anonymously, Wiesler begins to protect Dreyman. All the while we are witness to the pervasive spying on people, the pettiness, the corruption of authority, the use of subtle threats to keep people in line, the almost comic meticulousness of the Stasi and their obsessive record keeping on everyone.
 
The conclusion of the film brings us well past the fall of the Berlin wall, when the full evidence of Stasi spying and the corruption of so many to be informers became evident. We see what happened to both Dreyman and Wiesler. I found the ending to be very, very emotional.
 
This was director von Donnersmarck's first feature film. He also was the writer. The acting is just as good as the film, particularly Muhe, Koch and Gedeck. Muhe has perhaps the toughest job. He has to show us this dedicated functionary first relentlessly breaking a suspect through calm, psychological questioning, then gradually, gradually letting us see Wiesler's doubts and humanity as he listens into to the lives of Dreyman and Sieland. Muhe makes us aware of Wiesler's changing outlook no faster than Weisler becomes aware of it himself. It's a subtle, strong performance.
A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film

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July 01, 2011
Great film! I would re-buy this on Bluray in second! Have you seen any of the director's other movies, after this that is?
 
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More The Lives of Others reviews
review by . June 30, 2011
Ossi Blues
Donnersmarck's first feature is a film that should have been made years before: a critical, dramatic depiction of East German governmental repression from a personal perspective. The exhaustive research that Donnersmarck conducted whilst writing the screenplay yields a remarkably accurate portrayal of Stasi operations and the damage that the ubiquitous police force frequently inflicted on the citizenry of the GDR.      In one of his last roles, the late Mühe plays Hauptmann …
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 …
review by . August 25, 2007
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 …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #33
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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