The Lives of Others (Des Leben der Anderen)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck
This quiet thriller set against the backdrop of the East Germany-West Germany conflict might leave you surprised and extremely curious. Most of our knowledge of the politics of Germany would be from our school history textbooks that spoke in sprinkles about the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. None of this, probably, ties up in people’s heads with the innate richness that detail gives you. ‘The Lives of Others’ might not offer a peephole into everything about the history of World War II and the post-WW II era but it is guaranteed to make you extremely curious about the much-feared Stasi.
The Secret Police of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) or East Germany, the Stasi were feared, reviled and respected. Gerd Wiesler (Mühe) is a Stasi Operative who is entrusted with the task of spying on playwright, Georg Dreyman (Koch) and his partner, the actress Christa-Marie Sieland (Gedeck). The famous couple’s apartment is completely bugged and Weisler and an associate are on the task round-clock – they hear every conversation, every step and can listen in on every amorous sigh. The complete and utter invasion of privacy is but a regular side-dish of Stasi operations. Artists and others who they perceive to be against the State are regularly blacklisted. Dreyman’s friend, Jerska, a writer is one such. East Germany is no place for dissent, much less rebellion. But why was Dreyman under surveillance? Wiesler, at first, believes it to be necessary to stem possible opposition from an outspoken artist. But he later realises what the real reason is – to keep an eye on Christa-Marie on whom the Minister of Culture has his eyes set. Disgusted by this, we see how he slowly and surreptitiously begins to feel for Dreyman and Christa-Marie and subverts his duties to help them out. He does not report that Dreyman is writing an article berating the State for the high rate of suicides in East Germany. Or that it is being smuggled across the border to be published in a widely read magazine in West Germany. Christa-Marie’s dependence on pills and her intense association with the Minister adds a fine twist in this tale.
Where does this sordid relationship between the Stasi and Dreyman and Christa-Marie end up? Why did the Stasi do what they did? Some of these questions will be answered by watching the movie. The movie ends on a hopeful note – the news that the Wall has fallen! ‘The Lives of Others’ won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006.
Verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie with its secret police, illicit relationships and mind-games. Please watch it!
Hot: The thrill of watching the inner workings of the Stasi and its sheer ruthlessness
Not: Personally, being fascinated by movies of subterfuge and rebellion, I felt like the movie could’ve gone a little beyond and shown us what other terrible things the Stasi were responsible for during their heyday.