The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) Made in: Germany Language: German Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Volkmar Kleinert Year: 2006
Synopsis: The year is 1984. During this time, East Germany was known for having one of the most feared and effective domestic security agencies in the world. Called the "Staatsicherheit,", or Stasi, the East German government employed highly effective and ingenious spy methods...mainly against its own citizens.
In The Lives of Others, veteran Stasi agent Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is assigned to secretly monitor Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a famous and highly respected playwright.
After wiretapping Dreyman's apartment and recording his every move with sophisticated surveillance equipment, Wiesler spends hours on end listening for any evidence that could label Dreyman as a potential subversive.
The operation is wrought with political controversy, as Dreyman is known to be a patriot and staunch socialist. Furthermore, Dreyman's lover Christa (Martina Gedeck), is a famous stage actress who's career is being kept alive via a sordid arrangement made by Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), a prominent member of the government's Ministry of Culture.
After Dreyman's creative mentor, Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert), commits suicide, the playwright begins re-examining his political beliefs, as well as his life as an artist living under a totalitarian regime.
The ice-cold and regimented Wiesler, who becomes familiar with the innermost details of Dreyman's life, soon finds himself personally affected by the writer's ordeal as he begins questioning his own purpose.
Will the inherent sense of humanity and compassion which resides in all of us overcome Wiesler's unquestioned faith and loyalty to the party and state?
Remarks: First off, I must say that Ulrich Mühe turns out a brilliant performance as the Stasi agent Wiesler. Never saying much, every subtle mannerism that Mühe brings to his character authentically captures every passionless detail of a loyal servant of East Germany's greatest instrument of oppression.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck creates an intelligent, realistic, and compelling story that points out the stark conflict between a repressive political system and mankind's intrinsic desire for freedom.
Although the commentary on the human toll under this system is effectively expressed through dialogue and visuals, the most memorable aspect of The Lives of Others is the contrast between the artistic Dreyman and the emotionless Wiesler.
Both are political idealists who, for very different reasons, believe that their best interests are served by the exact same system of government. And as their lives intersect, both see their world-view shattered by the very ideology they once trusted.
Who would like this movie: You'll enjoy this foreign film if you like intelligent, mature dramas dealing with the human condition. It's also helpful if you have an interest, and good understanding, of German history and politics during the cold war. Espionage fans should check this one out as well.
Overall, The Lives of Others is a solid, moving story chocked full of nuanced details and philosophical observations that should spark deep conversation.