The Lives of Others is a German suspense drama released in Germany in 2006 which grabbed several awards in the German Film Awards, the European Film Awards, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The movie takes place in 1984, several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall when East Germany was under the control of the Stasi, the secret police of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The plot centers on Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a rigid and austere Stasi Captain who was tasked by his superior to monitor playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), supposedly the only unsuspicious author in the GDR cultural scene. Dreyman lives with his girlfriend, the celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) who has a drug abuse problem and often stars his plays. After the surveillance installation in Dreyman’s apartment, Wiesler and another agent would listen on every conversation and telephone call through their monitoring machines hoping to find something that would bring him down as a dissident of the state. Soon, Wiesler finds out the real reason why Dreyman was being monitored and grows increasingly recalcitrant towards his superiors. As he listens in day by day, being privy on every aspect of Dreyman’s private life including the most intimate parts, he becomes bit by bit attached to the people who are targeted as enemy of the state and gradually realizes the bitterness and sad state of his own life. Slowly he changes ideals and begins to cover for Dreyman’s suspicious activities. The plot develops increasingly tense as it reaches its climax which would leave the audience shocked and seriously on edge.
When I first watched this film, I was unaware of the fact that it garnered a lot of Film Awards distinctions and had no great expectations of it whatsoever. However, by the time it rolled down to the credits, I had myself nodding with high approval that this is one of, if not the best films I’ve ever seen. The plot is so tightly woven and the script is impressively done. The whole film is both riveting and suspenseful without too much effort, that I can’t think of a single scene that is dragging or works by way of a surplus. Its scene transitions are so delicately executed, that even the minutest detail follows through. The build up of the right emotions is accomplished with such perfect subtlety. Noteworthy is the cast’s performance, especially Ulrich Mühe as Wiesler, exceptionally delivering his part that he stirs up emotions so strong you can be lost with his character’s tribulations. The acting was carried out in a very natural manner that nothing is ever forced. Each facial expression, slightest muscle movement and eye contact portrays the exact emotions the scene demands. Characterization was developed very naturally as one may observe Wiesler’s transformation. The film’s cinematography accurately captures the bleak and severe atmosphere of the Stasi controlled East Germany and the musical score heightens up the tension already built. Although the whole movie is very intense, the ending will leave you feeling calm and somehow, glad.The film’s strong point is its quiet but strong approach in the way it subtly leads from one development to another gradually building up layers of emotion and thrill without much provocation.
The film explores the power of human emotion and the identity of man in a totalitarian state amidst the power struggles at work in such a condition. The concepts of free speech, state loyalty and ideals of freedom come at play with the issues the characters are dealing with. All in all, this movie is a must-watch. I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a 10 out of 10 stars.