Walls Have Ears, Ceilings Have Eyes: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

Das Leben der Anderen

Das Leben der Anderen
(DIRECTED BY Florian Henckel
von Donnersmarck, 2005)

“It took a few years before anyone found a clever way to bring into focus a system that kept 17 million people locked up and under suppression. I was hoping this film would touch a nerve while we were working on it but you never really know how people will react.”
— Ulrich Mühe
“Seven Awards to German Stasi Film”
March 13, 2006

The Hungarian novelist, Imre Kertész, once remarked, “It’s easier to write literature in a dictatorship than in a democracy.” On a first read, his comment could come across as too sweeping, even shocking. Yet it contains an acrimonious truth that pricks upon our social conscience, contesting the construct of ideological conformity: the more repressive a political reality becomes, the stronger a will that streams from creative consciousness to resist, survive, and live.

A drama of sublime suspense, The Lives of Others recounts the specific details of a Stasi[1] officer’s mission in East Berlin during the mid-1980s. Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is charged by Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) with the responsibility for uncovering incriminating materials about the playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) — the sole “non-subversive writer” — and begins to spy on him and his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). A revered stage actress, Sieland, however, doubts her artistry. She becomes psychologically destabilized, unable to cope with her increasing dosage of a banned tranquilizer and with the sexual coercions of the Minister.

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe)

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe)
IN Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)
Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Wiesler listens to all aspects of their daily lives, using surveillance equipment installed in the attic of their apartment building. While doing so, he discovers an unmasked version of himself. As a Stasi officer, he has regarded people as machines in which fear instrumentalizes and compartmentalizes emotions and personalities. His gradual transformation from a calculating and ruthless man to a sympathetic character — lost, yet willing to sacrifice himself to save Sieland and Dreyman — is a layered performance. In portraying his character, Mühe exposes reservoirs of feeling with a minimalism that is well-suited to the film’s tempo: crescendo misterioso.

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  1. The Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst), an organization similar to the Soviet Ministry for State Security, served as the core of secret police forces in East Germany (1950-1989). It maintained a vast network of informants, more than eclipsing the size of the Gestapo during Hitler’s regime. In the final days before the Stasi were disbanded, many of the dossiers on the German Democratic Republic’s citizens lives were shredded, but the remnants are now being recovered and archived by the government agency, the Office of the Federal Commissioner Preserving the Records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR (BStU).

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