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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Because this movie deals with recent German history, some German comments about it get sidetracked into minute historical discussions. Forget them; Das Leben der Anderen is an outstanding movie that should be seen everywhere.

    The former East Germany, a relatively small country of 16 million people, was controlled by the most sophisticated, cunning, and thorough secret police the world has ever seen, the East German Ministerium für Staatsicherheit, or "Stasi." The Stasi had about 90,000 employees -- a staggering number for such a small population -- but even more importantly, recruited a network of hundreds of thousands of "unofficial employees," who submitted secret reports on their co-workers, bosses, friends, neighbors, and even family members. Some did so voluntarily, but many were bribed or blackmailed into collaboration.

    Das Leben der Anderen, ("The Life of Others") German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's debut, builds this painful legacy into a fascinating, moving film. In its moral seriousness, artistic refinement, and depth, Das Leben der Anderen simply towers over other recent German movies, and urgently deserves a wide international release. The fulcrum of the movie (but probably not its most important character) is Georg Dreyman, an up-and-coming East German playwright in his late 30s. Played by the square-jawed Sebastian Koch, Dreyman is an (apparently) convinced socialist who's made his peace with the regime. His plays are either ideologically neutral or acceptable, and he's even received State honors.

    Although he is a collaborator, he is also a Mensch. He uses his ideological "cleanliness" to intervene on behalf of dissidents such as his journalist friend Paul Hauser (Hans-Uwe Bauer). These unfortunates must contend with every humiliation a totalitarian state can invent: their apartments are bugged, friends and family are recruited to inform on them, and chances to publish or perform can be extinguished by one stray comment from a Central Committee member. The most recalcitrant can be kicked out of the country and stripped of their citizenship, like the singer songwriter Wolf Biermann.

    Dreyman lives in a shabby-genteel, book-filled apartment with his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a renowned actress who often appears in his plays. At the beginning of the movie, Dreyman himself comes under the regime's suspicion, for reasons that become clear only later. The fearful machinery of the Stasi rumbles to life: his movements are recorded, and his apartment bugged. The Stasi had bugging down to a science: a team of meticulously-trained agents swoop into your apartment when you're not there, install miniscule, undetectable listening devices in every single room -- including the bathroom -- and vanish in less than an hour, leaving no trace. Agents set up an secret electronic command post nearby, keeping a written record of every joke, argument, or lovemaking session.

    The "operative process" against Dreyman is overseen by Stasi captain Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Mühe, an actor from the former East who was himself once in the Stasi's cross-hairs. Captain Wiesler starts the film as a colorless, icy, tight-lipped professional who shows no mercy in fighting the "enemies of socialism": if he needs to interrogate a suspect for 10 hours without sleep to get a confession, he will do so -- and then place the seat-cover the suspect sat on in a vacuum jar in case the miscreant should later need to be tracked by bloodhounds. At night, Captain Wiesler returns to his tiny apartment in an grubby, anonymous high-rise. He settles himself among his inexpressibly drab furniture, eats a meal squeezed out of a plastic tube while watching reports about agricultural production, and then goes to bed alone.

    As Captain Wiesler listens to Dreyman and his girlfriend he begins to like them, or perhaps envy the richness and depth of their lives in comparison with his own. Perhaps he also begins to wonder why a stranger should have the right to become privy to Dreyman's most intimate secrets: his occasional impotence, his girlfriend's infidelities, his artistic crises. At the same time, though, Wiesler is under pressure: a Central Committee official has made it clear to Wiesler and his toadying supervisor Lieutenant Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), that Dreyman has to go down.

    I won't discuss more plot details, as there are unexpected twists. Each of the main characters is drawn deeper into the conflict between Dreyman and the State, and each is torqued by loyalty conflicts that intensify as the pressure increases. The cast is outstanding. Sebastian Koch finds the right combination of poetic detachment and watchful sophistication for Dreyman. Martina Gedeck, as his girlfriend, has the most challenging role, since she's buffeted from all sides: by her suspicious partner, by Stasi agents trying to turn her, and by a lecherous Culture Minister. Ulrich Mühe plays the Stasi agent's transformation with reserve, only hinting at the stages in his character's secret, but decisive, change of heart.

    Director von Donnersmarck, a blue-blooded West German, has re-created the gray, drained look of the former East, and the nature of Stasi intimidation, with a fidelity that has earned the praise of East Germans. His pacing is relaxed, but doesn't drag; although there are a few longueurs, most scenes unfold at just the right pace, and there are several great set-pieces. One is a bone-rattling episode in the Stasi canteen in which a young recruit is caught telling a joke about East German premier Erich Honecker. Another is the penultimate scene, a masterstroke in which Dreyman gains access to his massive Stasi file, while reading it, suddenly understands episodes of his own life which had never made sense to him before. The ending is perfectly judged; bittersweet and moving without swelling strings or teary confessions.

    Das Leben der Anderen is an outstanding movie, probably a great one. If it's not picked up for international distribution, it will be a bitter loss for thousands of potential moviegoers in other countries.
  • I wonder why there has been so little written and publicized about this movie. This should be seen in every country and its merits trumpeted from the skies.

    It starts off slowly and the locale is the former East Germany, inhabited by 16 million people who are being spied upon relentlessly by their secret police. In this very real world of the Berlin Wall, there are many Stasi, 90,000, overseeing the populace, aided and abetted by hundreds of thousands of informants. Many of these snitches were blackmailed or other pressures exerted (threats to children and loved ones) and a few obliged voluntarily.

    What is truly amazing is that this is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's directorial debut, and he maintains a masterful hand throughout and keeps the story and the tension rolling from the first scene of interrogation which is filmed back and forth between a tape educating new Stasi as to interview techniques and to the actual cell itself where it was recorded.

    The movie circles around three main characters and there is a wider circle of the powerful who pull the puppet strings for a variety of reasons which become clear as the movie unfolds.

    First is Georg Dreyman, a playwright on the verge of celebrating his 40th birthday. Sebastian Koch, a tall,handsome actor dressed in writerly rumple, shares an apartment with his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and exists within the strictures of the state-sponsored theatre. He is a decent man, and tries to win support for his blacklisted friends.

    For reasons that become quite clear, Dreyman falls under suspicion and the whole sophisticated Stasi spying system comes into play in the era of 1984. His whole apartment is bugged and every sound is monitored.

    The man in charge of all this is Captain Gerd Wiesler,(Ulrich Mühe). Ulrich's performance is nothing short of stunning. He starts as an almost robotic presence, dressed in gray, he almost disappears into every scene he's in. But one detects a clear intelligence in his bright eyes, the only part of him that's alive. Captain Wiesler lives in a non-descript arborited apartment, much like himself. He squeezes his food onto a plate from a tube.

    But the captain starts to awaken slowly as he listens surreptitiously on the state of the art equipment secreted in the attic of Dreyman's building. He starts to fall in love with the couple and then pressure from above is brought to bear on him to dig for the dirt in Dreyman's life.

    And he is in a dilemma now, as he is drawn further and further into the life of Dreman and his girlfriend.

    I won't throw spoilers down. Suffice to say is that the story is enthralling right down to the very last frame. The acting is superb, the direction impeccable and the world of East Germany meticulously drawn with the viewer respected enough to find his or her own emotional path through the plot.

    The ending is truly one of a kind. So right and true that I was left nodding, it was the only one possible.

    A must see, I will sing the praises of this film to all I know. 10 out of 10 from me. Right up there in my top 50 of all time. I find it so disappointing that these movies don't get wider release AND compete for an Oscar in the best picture of the year and not just for best foreign film. Now there's a heretical thought!
  • East Berlin, November 1984. Five years before its downfall the GDR seeks to maintain its power with the help of a merciless system of control and observation. When Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz puts loyal Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler on to the famous writer Georg Dreymann and his girlfriend Christa Maria Sieland who is a famous actress herself, he expects career advancement for himself. For most important politicians are responsible for this "operative act".

    What Wiesler did not expect: the intimate view on the world of the ones he's observing changes the snitch as well. Looking at "the life of the others" makes him aware of the beggarliness in his own life and enables access to a so far unknown world of love, free thinking and speaking he is hardly able to elude. But the system can't be stopped anymore and a dangerous game, which destroys the love of Christa Maria Sieland and Georg Dreymann and Wieslers present existence begins.

    Until the fall of the wall each of them has paid a big price. After that a whole new world begins.

    My personal opinion - though it doesn't count that much - is that this one a an absolute Must See. I can hardly remember such an intelligent and moving German movie especially not including the whole topic of GDR history and the dealing with it. I think this is the first German movie which shows this system as it used to be (which has been confirmed by several contemporary witnesses) and not turns it and its people into comedy though there have been several good ones, of course.
  • hareck20 May 2006
    I do agree with all the other positive comments, and just need to add that this is the very first movie about the former GDR I saw that is not something like a comedy. Flicks like "Sonnenallee" or "Good bye Lenin" definitely were great and funny, but unconsciously left myself (a West German) with the impression that the GDR has been a sort of "Mickey Mouse State" full of stupid but charming characters, not really to be taken seriously. After seeing "Das Leben der Anderen" this impression shifted quite a bit: there actually was suffering, killing desperation and a terribly claustrophobic atmosphere behind that wall. This might well be the most realistic depiction of the dark side of the former East Germany. Thanks to the Producers, actors and director for making this movie. 10 out of 10.
  • drgyn200013 April 2007
    After seeing the outstanding Pan's Labyrinth, I could not understand how anything could beat it to the Oscar for Best Film, let alone the accolade of Best Foreign Film. That was until I saw The Lives of Others.

    Putting it simply, this is the best film released in years. The framework of the story surrounds a Stasi officer who is assigned to monitor a writer and his actress girlfriend considered loyal to East German regime. That is all I am prepared to reveal because this film operates on so many levels that I wouldn't know where to begin. On the surface this can be enjoyed as a taut drama but essentially it is a study of the human condition and the capacity for compassion and humanity exists in even the most inhumane people. All of this is shot against the backdrop of the greys and browns of communist East Germany.

    As a film it is virtually flawless. The three central performances are nothing short of electric, with particularly Ulrich Muhe giving one of the greatest leading man performances since Al Pacino in The Godfather. None of this would be possible without a brilliant script and exemplary direction, that brings the characters to life extracting the best out of the actors. The result is no words are wasted, and every scene is relevant and expertly conceived. This manages to explore deep issues without being turgid, is moving without being draining and remains gripping and entertaining without being superficial.

    In summary, this is film-making at its finest. It is the sort of movie that you'll go down on bended knee and pay homage to the inventor of cinema, because it is films like this that cinema was created for. You'll forgive a year of tedious sequels and cash cows, for the one day that films like this get released.

    10 out of 10 is too modest.
  • rkj-319 October 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    Germany has produced some very good movies recently ... but this one is in a class of its own. The main power of a quality movie, for me, has always been two things, a good story and mood - and this film has both. The story keeps you interested through all 139 minutes. You actually feel yourself transported to the 1980s of the former German republic. They have carefully chosen locations that looks east-germanish ... lots of "Trabant" cars on the streets :-) and the general grayish mood is very well recreated. The ordinary peoples fear of the Stasi is realistically portrayed. And i just love the twist in the story in the last 20 minutes or so. A brilliant movie that anyone even remotely interested in non-mainstream movies should see.
  • This film utterly blew me away. Full disclosure: I'm a German born (Munich born) German-American who left Germany in 1986, before the wall came down. I cannot describe the feeling I felt as the last few words were spoken on the screen. I could not look at the subtitles ( a habit of speaking two languages ) because my eyes were so full of tears. I cannot tell you how I was so sorry I did not experience the wall coming down. This film healed a wound that may have been left by the nightmare years of 1938-1945, my own great uncle being a Nazi war criminal, convicted in Nuremberg in 1946. Yes, we are mensch too. We have the potential for greatness (of character) in spite of our history. Thank you Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, for giving me back half of my lost soul in this single "es ist für mich". I am reminded again that the difference between ourselves and beasts is that we have a choice.
  • I've been taking German lessons for about 2 months now, and since movies were great in helping me learn English language I'm always looking for German films to watch (as well as German music to listen to) in order to educate my ears.

    Anyway, I went to this place where I get all sort of rare movies and this one caught my attention... and I had no idea it got the Oscar for foreign language film this year! So I watched it without prejudice and... what did I find? A MASTERPIECE! This is the kind of movie that gets your attention from the first moment, and makes you interested in understanding the characters' psyche, which is very varied: you have the idealistic good guys, the idealistic bad guys, the people that broad their minds understanding that no political dogma is better than individual freedom, etc. And even though the movie has very tough moments it is all so well done and presented with such a good taste that in the end you feel some sort of relieved.

    In this present day, when the ghost of authoritarian regimes still fly over our heads (in my country we're getting closer and closer to that reality), this movie will make you think about how important love, life and freedom are.

    A must see!
  • Holy cow! What a terrific movie! I am a voting member of the Academy (actor's branch) so I get all the films for free. I've seen everything---60 films. This was one of the last 3 films that I saw---because I was completely unfamiliar with the title. This film slowly gripped me, but by the end, the grip was merciless. The lead actor, who should be doing The Life Story Of Peter Jennings, was wonderful. Everybody was terrific. Congratulations to the writers for their perfect structure---and to the director for his flawless storytelling---and his eliciting of top performances from his actors. How well cast it was.

    But now I'm totally bewildered. Why haven't I heard anything about this film? Where was this film at the Golden Globes? I haven't even seen any reviews about it. Nothing! What's going on? I'm very active in the film business. I follow this stuff. This film (that I never heard of) took me by surprise as no other film has ever done.

    Note to the IMDb: This is not a spoiler.

    Jesse Vint III
  • Memories of the 70's and 80's visits in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) flood my mind while watching this film. Some are revolting, some comical and others are frightening. As a student of German, I visited the GDR several times to see pen pal friends. I remember one friend looking around and whispering to me in the S-Bahn - just in case one of the many "IM's" (unofficial workers of the Stasi) was listening in.

    I visited a representative of a magazine for western countries about the GDR and spent one memorable weekend sightseeing with her. Near the end of my visit, she asked me if I would work for them regularly by writing my opinion of "GDR Review" and its suitability for readers in the West. I would be paid in GDR money to use during further visits. After politely refusing this "offer" ("The police at home might not like it!"), I always had a sneaking suspicion that that was an attempt by the Stasi to recruit me.

    Years later I applied to see my "Stasi File". I will never forget the feeling deep inside me when I read in it: ".….is not suitable for our use due to his apparent connection to the police in his homeland." The beautiful, friendly lady in Dresden had been a Stasi informer all the time! All of my visits to the GDR and the people I visited were listed in that file. For me "The Lives of Others" is an authentic representation of that totalitarian state. I am glad that those times have ended.

    Congratulations on a well deserved Oscar!
  • I saw this film in its North American premiere in a packed theater at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival this past week and was pleased to be part of a standing ovation at the end for the director and star, who were both on hand.

    "The Lives of Others," set in East Germany not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, tells the moving story of a police investigator forced to confront himself and the work he does. In a society poisoned by secrecy, fear and the abuse of power, a number of the movie's characters -- artists, actors, writers -- must look deep inside and decide what they are made of; none more so than the investigator.

    This is a movie that took me to a place and time that felt very authentic, for a tale that was very satisfying.

    Ulrich Muhe, who plays the investigator, is mesmerizing, and the young director is to be applauded for this, his first full-length film. Some have compared "The Lives of Others" to Coppola's "The Conversation" but the two have completely different story arcs and are only superficially similar.

    Both my companion and I felt this was our favorite of the six films we had a chance to see at the festival.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When I first heard about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film "Das Leben der Anderen" and the issue it dealt with, I instantly tipped it to be one of the must-see films. As a great cinema-goer and a genuine admirer of the European cinematography, I was overwhelmed with a notion that a succession of thought-provoking German films would be continued with this moving insight into the lives of others at a very delicate period of the 80s in East Germany. After months of waiting, the Serbian audience was presented with "Das Leben der Anderen" during The Belgrade Film Festival and we related to it to the extent that whilst leaving the cinema many of us commented on how pleased we would be to see it win the Oscar. And it did, the very same night.

    What makes "Das Leben der Anderen" so brilliant to me is the choice of topic- an account of the years of dangerous living in East Germany, during which almost everyone was dubbed suspicious by the Stasi, until after careful and detailed examination the opposite was proved, the obsession with the non-existent enemies of the non-existent prosperity, the overall greyness of the atmosphere in East Berlin. And then, there is also the process that the character of Wiesler undergoes, unveiling the emptiness of his own existence, the process presented with the subtle pace that Donnersmarck dexterously set. The ending is one of the most powerful ones that I have ever seen, containing just the right words- It is for me- spoken by a man who for the first time in his life seems to be doing something for himself, a man who had no life of his own, who lived through other people's lives, but also- It is for me- the words spoken to denote that somebody out there (Dreyman) actually dedicated something (Die Sonate vom guten Menschen) to him.

    A gripping story of what happened somewhere in East Berlin to somebody else, not us, or maybe a reminder of what happened to many of us at some other place, at some other time, a reminder that came to life through the lives of others somewhere in Berlin.

    So powerful, so beautifully crafted. A true gem.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was my favorite film at Telluride. Everyone with whom I talked had the same feeling. It generated the most "buzz." I hope it has a wide audience in the US. The acting by those who experienced the Stasi was moving and believable. Ulrich Muhe as the Stasi Officer was brilliant. Most of us cried during the final scene. Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck's direction with its twists and turns kept the audience glued to the screen. Because of the film's popularity, it was scheduled again for another showing at the festival. Both Muhe and Henckel-Donnersmarck were present and were stopped where ever they went during the festival. I recommend this film and gave it a 10.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film, set in the theater world of the mid-1980s, was particularly satisfying to me because I was a producer of avant-garde theater through the 1980s, based in San Francisco but often on tour -- including to international theater festivals in West Germany, communist Poland and communist Yugoslavia in 1987. Although my experience as an American was of course very different than the experience of these East Berliners, there is a mood and sense of personalities in this film that I found authentic and familiar. The people in this film feel like the people I met in the festival bars and refreshment centers for participating artists and on panel discussions in those festivals.

    Many commenters here have noted the important character change of the Stasi agent, attributing the change either to his growing appreciation for the humanity of the playwright and the actress, or else complaining that the transformation is unpersuasive. So far as I've read in the comments, no one has focused on the key scene. When the Stasi agent hears the playwright and friends planning the suicide article to be smuggled to the West, he writes up an accurate report on this and hastens to his boss's office. Up until then, whatever sympathies he may have developed for the playwright or for the actress are inadequate to deter him.

    But when the agent enters the boss's office, the boss doesn't immediately give him a chance to give the report or to say anything -- instead the boss immediately launches into a discussion of a new study analyzing how to interrogate and intimidate artists and writers. The report categorizes writers and artists into 5 basic personality types. The boss says the playwright is a "type 4." He describes how the prescribed approach to intimidate "type 4" writers will result in them losing hope and never writing again.

    Only after hearing this, and realizing that his report exposing the playwright as the author of the suicide paper will result in the playwright being crushed emotionally and never even wanting to write anything new, does the Stasi agent curl up the report in his hands and decide not to give the report to his boss. The agent's precise motivation is unclear. But it cannot be merely that the agent wants the playwright to be able to continue writing new works. The agent must know that the state will never let the playwright do another play or publish anything, if the playwright's authorship of the suicide paper is known, and yet the agent was ready to expose the playwright anyway. So the agent's motive for suddenly deciding to hide his report is not merely because the state will put the playwright on a blacklist and block him from publishing or getting plays produced.

    Thus it must be that the agent is motivated to change by feeling a general revulsion against the idea that the state should employ the crushing of hope, of creative spirit, as a strategy for responding to a dissenter whom the agent knows is a genuine supporter of the regime but who sees that it has flaws. It is the fact that the state will destroy the playwright's very desire to write, that causes the agent to change. It isn't clear whether the agent would draw back from inflicting that kind of punishment on any artist, even one whom he felt to be a real enemy of the state, but it is clear that he can't bring himself to inflict it on a man whom he feels is a "good" man like the playwright. And the agent believes the playwright is "good" because the playwright supports what is good about society, tries to correct what is wrong about society, is loyal even to a friend who has made powerful enemies, and treats his lover with compassion even when it appears the lover is betraying him.

    And the irony -- a good irony -- is that by acting to preserve the playwright's desire to write, the agent winds up being the focus of the playwright's novel -- a novel born of a desire and drive to write that the agent himself kept the state from destroying.

    Thus it seems to me that the real message of this movie is that even the most unimaginative, bland, uncreative, rigid people -- such as the Stasi agent -- should appreciate and protect the desire that drives creative people who are also "good" people to create works of art and literature.
  • I am still quite speechless. Overwhelmed by how utterly compelling the story was and by how emotive the acting story was. Floored by the unbelievably great character development. This film is close to perfect. It is a spiritual cousin to 2004's magnificent Downfall and shares a lot of similarities with Paul Verhoeven's stunning Black Book from last year, not just because these films share two actors. This multi-faceted character driven masterpiece really is as good as it's hype says.

    Sebastian Koch in particular absolutely shines. He is one of the best international actors working today and he follows the brilliance of his role in Black Book with the lead here. With his bohemian, dishevelled good looks and brilliant charisma, he's the best German-speaking actor since Bruno Ganz. But he is far from the only good actor in this movie, Ulrich Mühe as the State Security (Stasi) agent whose task it is to monitor Koch's suspiciously free thinking playwright, brings another near perfect performance to the movie. Agent Wiesler initially appears to the audience as the polar opposite of Koch's character. With his grey button down clothing, closely cropped hair and consistently emotionless face he symbolises everything about the overbearing untrusting Socialist government of East Germany that is wrong. He could easily have remained that character throughout the whole film but he becomes the surprising emotional centre of the story and the line between heroes and villains is significantly shifted (something which extends to the supporting cast as well. Truth be told there are probably only two characters in this film whom I didn't have to rethink my opinion of). Weisler reveals himself as a lonely, isolated man who risks his entire career as his attitude to his subject changes from one of mistrust to one of near-adoration. There is an undeniable link between the two characters even though they never share a single scene and Georg Dreyman (Koch) doesn't even find about Wiesler until the last 10 minutes of the movie, which leads us up to what should go down as one of the greatest endings in cinema history. Just thinking about the final spoken lines brings the tears to my eyes.

    As I said, without a doubt one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. And as much as I adore Pan's Labyrinth, this one really did deserve it's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. An absolute masterpiece.
  • "Who knows the secrets of the human heart?" Col in The Crying Game

    WhenI saw 2006's Oscar winning Departed, I was satisfied it could be the best picture of the year; then I saw Pan's Labyrinth and thought it imaginatively superior; then I saw Lives of Others, the Oscar choice for best foreign film, and I knew it was the globe's best film of the year, no argument.

    Lives of Others is what all movie making should strive to be: interesting characters, thrilling plot, superb acting, and thematic weight. It's set in East Berlin, 1984, five years before the Wall's fall and Gorbachev's "glasnost" and still felling the tremors of Nazism, in this case the Stasi, a government agency similar to the SS. Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe), a Stasi teacher and coldly efficient information gatherer, surreptitiously watches playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) to get compromising details that would damn Dreyman and open the romantic way for the culture minister, Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme). Oddly for an artist, Dreyman is loyal to socialism, so it is through Sieland that the information must come.

    The dramatic hub of this absorbing intrigue is the growing affection Wiesler gains for the actress and coincidentally the underground freedom movement, mostly as it is represented by artists and their friends. While his efficiency is amply evident in his cool detachment, similar to that of Rafe Fiennes in Schindler's List and Serg Lopez in Pan's Labyrinth, his humanity seeps out at the edges as he becomes vicariously involved in the artists' lives. First-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck misses not a beat in slowly revealing the hearts of all his principals while he creates a plot remarkably interesting for a character-driven piece.

    Few films could mine the rich conflict between the totalitarian state and artists who yearn for freedom of expression, between the loyalties of friends and lovers and the crushing exigency of survival. Lives of Others shows how difficult it is to watch others' lives unfold and not be drawn to their passion. It's rough out there: No other film of 2006 showed that cliché better. Here's looking at you, best film of the year.
  • Das Leben der Anderen (2006) (The Lives of Others) was brilliantly written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The film is a taut thriller. It's also a dramatization of what happened in East Germany--and could happen here--if we allow the government access to every aspect of our lives. Ulrich Mühe stars as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler of the Stasi--the dreaded secret police. The Captain is so talented in interrogation that he gives lectures on interrogation techniques to Stasi cadets.

    For complex reasons, Wiesler is investigating a prominent couple-- Christa-Maria Sieland, a beautiful and talented actor (Martina Gedeck), and Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) an accomplished author and playwright.

    Artists in East Germany were strictly controlled by the state. Some of them played an intricate cat-and-mouse game with the Stasi--going just far enough to attract notice, but not so far as to bring about arrest. The problem with the cat-and-mouse game was that the cats had very sharp teeth, which they didn't hesitate to use. Blacklisting was just one of the state's weapons--a single word from a high official and you never acted again, or your plays or music were never performed. Although both Christa-Maria and Georg have been careful and discrete, they haven't been careful and discrete enough to escape the Stasi's interest.

    The movie, although in color, looks as if it were shot in black and white. The mood and the locations are drab and muted. Obviously, the color reflects the political and social situation of the time. The camerwork and editing were outstanding. Every other aspect of the film is equally excellent, particularly the work of the supporting actors.

    Not only does this film represent a riveting thriller, but it provides a powerful political message. After you've seen The Lives of Others, you won't keep quiet when someone tells you "I don't care if the government taps my phone; I've got nothing to hide."

    This is an extraordinary film--well acted and directed, with a compelling plot and message. Das Leben der Anderen is the finest movie I've seen this year. It's definitely worth seeking out.
  • having had the joy - while not living in the old gdr itself - to have some "accidental" run ins with the good old stasi then, i found it awkward that a German director from the "west" would have the guts to take on the subject of this "ministry of greyness".

    writer/director florian henkell von donnersmarck (nice name for a teutonic director, me thinks, very fancy - makes you bang your heels) not only survived this bout of pretension which could have let him drowned in a swamp of reproaches and allegations about executing the "justice of the winners", but he transformed the tale into a story that can and will be understood anywhere in the world: a tale about power, treason and the almost anarchistic potency of emotions.

    while at the same time not falling into the trap of moralizing with a waving finger but showing us "the system" as an bureaucratic nightmare powered by - eventually - once even good intentioned human robots of socialist self-righteousness who actually destroy all real positive socialist impulses in the ones they plague, this film is - even if one disagrees with it's premises - probably the most important political drama coming out of Germany for years.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Mediocrity, thoroughness, morality, power. These words come into my mind after seeing this very German movie, which is otherwise also a great movie. It has a great atmosphere, giving back the grey world of the DDR: grey buildings, grey Trabants and Wartburgs, grey people, a country ruled by mediocrity even in its colours.

    Nevertheless, a thorough world: the Stasi thoroughly maintains the files about the many suspects, the agents thoroughly install the bugs in their flats and thoroughly watch them. (Later in the unified Germany they thoroughly maintain the very same files and make them open for everyone. A thorough nation, the Germans.)

    But the Germans also value morality and this is also evident in the movie. The moral awakening causes the otherwise conformist writer to challenge the Communist power and the very same moral attitude causes the much less typical and much less anticipated awakening of the Stasi agent watching the writer. The latter transformation is clearly more exciting, as the grey, mediocre, thorough and lonely Stasi agent, the loyal servant realizes the real nature of the Communist power during the observation of the writer and her wife. In the end he also challenges this power in his own humble way.

    The story should also be instructive for us Hungarians, as it shows an example of how a nation should handle its dark past. The Germans already did a fairly impressive "brainwash" after WWII to reach a catharsis on the sinful Nazi past and they did a similarly impressive moral confrontation in the 90's with their Communist past and the Stasi. I envy them, because we Hungarians have failed in this. The Germans consistently opened all the Stasi files, and allowed everyone to go and see who had been watched and who had been the agents and the informers.

    In Hungary, this did not happen. What happened instead was that many of the informers became prominent politicians (other professions exposed to the public like artists, journalists, church officials were/are also heavily "infected") and the files were used to blackmail them, or to get rid of them in a few occasions. Not exactly the right way to purify the society. And the society is indeed far from being purified: they just do not really care if it turns out that some prominent person was an informer back in the Communist era. So, when such files come to the public, the former agent just says some weak excuses ("I was forced into this" and " I always tried to defend the people around me" and "I never wrote anything harmful", etc.) and then everything continues as before.

    This was what happened to Oscar-winner film director István Szabó whose story is particularly striking. An article was published in a weekly uncovering the fact that he was an informer back in the early 60's. His personal post-scandal behaviour is a typical example of trying to get away with feeble excuses. The reaction of the society was an example of accepting these cheap excuses without criticism, just because Szabó was an otherwise famous, talented and popular person, a "nice" guy.

    And this is a pity: Szabó is one of the few informers who could have stood up and confess his "sins" without losing his authenticity, because Szabó the artist has done the confession. His best films showed how the power can corrupt talented but weak persons, how one can lose one's integrity. He got his Oscar for exploring this very topic in Mephisto, (and he got Oscar nominations for two other similar movies with Brandauer). And then he did confront this issue even more explicitly in Taking sides, too. And he did it in the right way, exposing all the complexity and all the moral issues. So, it is indeed a pity he could not do it in the right way in his personal life. And it is indeed a pity that we Hungarians could not do it the right way. The Germans did.
  • This film is set in the Orlwellian year of 1984 in the old German Democratic Republic of what was known as East Berlin. The Stasi are the "Shield and the Sword" of the ruling party of this soviet bloc nation, a secret police force of 100,000 that subjugates another 300,000 to spy for them. This totalitarian system is based on a need to know everything about the countries populace of 16 million. Everything is meticulously documented. Big Brother keeps tabs on any it deems worthy of investigation. Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a button-down bureaucratic establishmentarian who works as a Stasi interrogator and as an instructor in the school for Stasi. His old schoolmate Lt. Col Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) is now his immediate superior. In an attempt to further his career, Grubitz wants to impress Cultural Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) and orders Wiesler to set up an elaborate eavesdropping stakeout to gather information on playwright George Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). Dreyman is a playwright loyal to the party but most his contemporaries have not been including his favorite director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Leinert) who has been blacklisted. Dreyman's live-in girlfriend is the popular stage actress Christina- Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) who is also the object of amorous affection from the sinister, shades of gestapo-like Hemph. This is no ordinary spy thriller. Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in his feature film debut gives the screen this wonderfully compelling story of life behind the Iron Curtain in the years leading to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and continues into 1991 after the reunification of Germany. Wonderful camera work from cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski enhances the stark realism of this film. This is the Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film of 2006. I had to see this since it beat out the highly favored Pan's Labyrinth for the Oscar. It's evident to me that Lives of Others is the superior film and the Academy got it right. This film flows so smoothly and your eyes are constantly on every movement on the screen that it's hard to believe you are reading subtitles too. Gabriel Yared's original composition for the film "Sonata for a Good Man" is a pivotal piece of it's storyline. I can't help but give this film my highest rating of a 10 out of 10 and I would highly recommend it.
  • the_weirdo8 January 2010
    I am a huge fan of German intellect. Their Philosophy. Their Literature. Their Science. One thing relating to the Germans that I am not that big a fan of is their entertainment. And my impression is mostly limited to the free television progammes they offer and honestly I get verily bored by those when I stay there.

    But with so much hype associated with this movie (being included in most of the top 10 lists of movies after 2000), I couldn't resist my curiosity and decided to go for it. I am so wrong about German movies. This one in particular is definitely one of the best movies I have seen.

    Before the Germany reunification, East Germany had this totalitarian government that was accused of infringing privacy of the citizens putting them into 24 hours surveillance to monitor any anti-government activities. The story involves an interrogation and surveillance specialist STASI (State Security) officer given a task of monitoring the life of a writer. But soon he discovers the misuse of power of the higher officials for personal benefit and his faith in the system withers down. And more he listens to the life of others he gets slowly absorbed in their lives living it with them. But the question was how far he could go?

    The direction is absorbing. The performance of the actors are fantastic. Remember 'The Green Mile'? This movie grips you like that one. It starts slow but becomes so engaging that it drags audience into the movie living with the actors. I was moved and intrigued with the dilemma each character was facing. I was living the lives of others.

    (Originally posted @
  • Dear Hollywood,

    would you mind watching this tremendous work and finally learn that to shock your audience you don't need a gun blowing someone's head off. You need an actor raising his eye brow, a single look, a simple movement of her hand. Yes, I know, you can't sell a movie around the world if you can't make sure anyone of any cultural background will get what is meant to be expressed. Yes, blowing someone's head off makes clear the poor fellow is dead and the other guy is evil and ruthless and needs to be tracked down. Yes, taxi driver is a fantastic masterpiece. But did it really have to end in a massacre?

    It is subtlety that turns a movie with good actors and good plot into an incredible one. The Lives of Others is pure subtlety. I hope it will never be forgotten.
  • flb8720 November 2009
    I have already found a lot of useful comments on this film, so my intention is not to repeat those comments. For me, this movie was really good, so I am a follower of the positive reviews I have read.

    What I would like to do, is comment on the negative reviews I have read about the character development, and in particular the role of Ulrich Muhe (Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler).

    A lot of people state that the transition from a very strict Stasi agent to the helpful 'friend' isn't realistic and human. When you look at how extremely strict and haunting the man was beforehand, he just couldn't turn into a good guy all of a sudden, they say.

    I disagree with that. When you look at it from a psychological point of view, it makes clear sense to me. It is very well known that just before a person admits his wrongdoing, he is at his most extreme in denying it! The more he is confronted with the fact that his methods are unethical, the more he will try to find arguments to defend his methods. A great example of this is the scene where the student in Wiesler's class comments on the brutal interrogations Wiesler has pulled off. Wiesler answers by saying that this is just the way things go in the DDR, and that the student better get used to that.

    Another example of why the transformation of Wiesler is so credible, is the fact that he hasn't got a life of his own. This is perfectly illustrated by the scenes in Wiesler's home. Every evening he returns to his home, finding it empty. He cooks (awefull) for himself and orders prostitutes to satisfy his sexual needs. In that particular scene he even asks the prostitute to stay longer. This illustrates even more how lonely the poor guy is. Also, this loneliness and 'lack of own life' perfectly illustrate the title of this movie. Wiesler doesn't have a life of his own, and therefore 'lives the life of others' when he's sitting in the attic listening to the lives that happen beneath him.

    A final argument for the credibility of the transition is the piano play Georg Dreyman plays after his good friend, the director and writer Albert Jerska, dies: 'die Sonate vom guten Menschen' or 'The sonata of good people'. This is the key moment for the transition. Wiesler then perfectly realizes that his work is pointless and unethical. That by doing it, he will never become a good man, and will never have a worthy life of his own. He is confronted with the rich life of the poets and artists, and discovers how beautiful a normal and free life can be. From that point on, he changes radically, and decides that he is no longer a part of an unethical, inhuman system. To me, this all perfectly fits.

    In my opinion this is one of the best movie in years. And I hope that I have offered clear arguments on why the transformation of Wiesler is not a wrong and unrealistic move, but instead a great enrichment of the movie.
  • alexoae26 January 2007
    First of all, I must say that the action of the movie is hard to understand for those who didn't live in the former communist countries from eastern Europe. As one who live in such a country, I think this movie is a masterpiece and Ulrich Muhe made a brilliant role, and maybe he's the man who should win the Oscar this year. In a world full of suspicion and secret services entering every people's life, the STASI officer risks his job for a noble cause, which the communists hated at that time - THE CULTURE. A really amazing production and a page of history "written" with genius by the crew of this film. Congratulations !
  • filmbuff197425 January 2007
    I won't go into the plot.The film concerns East Germany during the eighties at it's most oppressive.The film is engrossing and so absorbing that I forgot I was reading subtitles all through it.Well worth the evening. The Lives of Others is what film is supposed to do which is to make one think about one's life and the society one is living in.

    I should say that the promotional poster is very misleading and I fear it will hurt this outstanding film.Those nude couples is absolutely not what this film is about.This is not some film about a group of self-absorbed adults jumping in and out of beds to put some excitement into their dull lives.This is a political film involving adults who are trying to live life freely in a very oppressive environment.The publicists should really re-think their promotional campaign.
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