Previous Page

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (R)

Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur

Release Date: February 9, 2007

Runtime: 2 hr. 17 mins.

Genre: Drama

East Berlin, November 1984: Five years before its downfall, the former East-German government ensured its claim to power with a ruthless system of control and surveillance. Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler hopes to boost his career when given the job of collecting evidence against the playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend, the celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland. After all, the "operation" is backed by the highest political circles. What he didn't anticipate, however, was that submerging oneself into the world of the target also changes the surveillance agent. The immersion in the lives of others--in love, literature, free thinking and speech--makes Wiesler acutely aware of the meagerness of his own existence and opens to him a completely new way of life, which he has ever more trouble resisting. But, the system, once started, cannot be stopped. A dangerous game has begun.

Review

Human nature trumps all in The Lives of Others, a thoughtful, engrossing tale of intrigue and instinct in 1980s East Germany.

Story

Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is the German Democratic Republic's ultimate company man. So good at conducting interrogations and spotting liars, he teaches new State Security (''Stasi'') recruits how to do both and dedicates his life to watching and exposing ''comrades'' who aren't quite as loyal as they should be. But when he starts conducting surveillance on dashing playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend Christa-Marie Sieland (Martina Gedeck), Wiesler finds himself getting caught up in their real-life drama--particularly after he discovers the true reason Dreyman has come under suspicion. As the stakes rise, Wiesler's dedication to the Socialist Unity Party battles his growing sense of what honor truly is.

Acting

The Lives of Others is full of strong performances, with Muhe's at the top of the list. Resembling a German Kevin Spacey, he conveys most of Wiesler's changing outlook through his large, expressive eyes. As Wiesler's exposure to the color and passion of Georg and Christa-Marie's life underlines the stark emptiness of his own, Muhe signals through slight changes in his character's rigid discipline much more is going on beneath the surface. Koch and Gedeck are also excellent. Georg and Christa-Marie's need for self-expression is constantly stifled by the pressure to be good party members, and both actors--particularly Gedeck--make it clear what the personal cost of that conflict can be. In the supporting cast, Ulrich Tukur does a nice job as Wiesler's secret police colleague/supervisor, Lt. Col. Anton Grubitz, turning what could have been a one-note performance into a role with unexpected nuances.

Direction

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck--who grew up in West Germany but visited the East as a child with his parents--has said that he spent four years researching The Lives of Others, and it shows. The stark, impersonal nature of much of the socialists' daily lives has the stamp of authenticity, as does the film's mood of constant fear and suspicion. By contrasting scenes set in Georg and Christa-Marie's eclectic, lived-in apartment--a haven from the world of informants and efficiency--with shots of a solitary Wiesler eavesdropping via headphone, von Donnersmarck shows how even a tenuous connection to the world of passion and art can transform a life. In the end, it is the characters' most human instincts--be they good or bad--that determine their fate, not the party's rules and regulations.

Bottom Line


Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.

Synopsis

East Berlin, November 1984: Five years before its downfall, the former East-German government ensured its claim to power with a ruthless system of control and surveillance. Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler hopes to boost his career when given the job of collecting evidence against the playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend, the celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland. After all, the "operation" is backed by the highest political circles. What he didn't anticipate, however, was that submerging oneself into the world of the target also changes the surveillance agent. The immersion in the lives of others--in love, literature, free thinking and speech--makes Wiesler acutely aware of the meagerness of his own existence and opens to him a completely new way of life, which he has ever more trouble resisting. But, the system, once started, cannot be stopped. A dangerous game has begun.

Stills