Director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck’s German Language drama The Lives of Others is a detailed look at the Stansi or Ministry for State Security that ruled over East Germany in the 1980’s. The focus on the 2006 Oscar winning film is on Georg Dreyman, a successful play-writer who is suspected as being sympathetic to the West German way of life. With such a popular and influential person suspected of speaking against them, the Stansi enact a surveillance team to watch and listen to Dreyman at all times.
The film begins with a interrogation within the Stansi headquarters. After a few minutes we’re shown that it’s in fact a case being studied within a classroom. The teacher, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is an apparent expert on interrogations and a man who expects strict adherence to the rules. Wiesler is invited to a play written by Georg Dreyman and staring Dreyman’s companion Christa-Maria Sieland. It’s here, he has a gut feeling that Dreyman may be involved in something against Stansi rules. As I mentioned, the home of Dreyman is bugged and it’s Wiesler in charge of the surveillance. After listening to Dreyman and his life for quite some time, Wiesler begins to sympathize with this writer. His sympathy is tested with Dreyman clearly is working against the Stansi and to enact change within East Germany. Wiesler must decide whether it’s worth trying to aid a man he has new-found respect for, of if he should continue to plug along as the unquestioning solider.
What most intriguing to me about the film is the setting. This is former East Germany in the mid 80’s. That’s not so long ago everyone. To have this kind of rule over others in this time in the world is really an eye opener. Being a History minor in college I knew about the names and dates related to the Berlin Wall but to actually be cast in with the characters during this film, it really was an unsettling time. To not be able to freely write or speak your mind is something that blows my mind. As for the film itself, I enjoyed it and thought it was expertly made, but I had a tough time connecting with our protagonist. With Dreyman being the character we’re watching you want him to make it out alive and make some change, but I never really thought that what he was doing was going to be that important. I don’t know if I just missed something but while I enjoyed the storyline, I never thought Dreyman was worth spending this much attention on. Yes he ended up writing a story about the suicides in Germany and how they are not counted, but was he the only person that could have written that story? I didn’t think so.
The best part of the film for me was the character of Wiesler played by Ulrich Muhe. Wiesler is the character in the film with the biggest arc and the performance by Muhe is so completely believable. While for me the film suffered a bit from being in a foreign language, I wasn’t able to focus as much on the acting because of the amount of dialogue in the film, It’s a really good film with a central plot that’s intriguing, it just felt a little distant to me.