The Lives of Others
|The Lives of Others|
Original German-language poster
|Directed by||Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck|
|Produced by||Max Wiedemann
|Written by||Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck|
|Music by||Gabriel Yared
|Editing by||Patricia Rommel|
|Studio||Wiedemann & Berg
|Distributed by||Buena Vista International (Germany)
Sony Pictures Classics
|Running time||138 minutes|
The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen) is a 2006 German thriller film, marking the feature film debut of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, about the monitoring of East Berlin by agents of the Stasi, the GDR's secret police. It stars Ulrich Mühe as Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, Ulrich Tukur as his boss Anton Grubitz, Sebastian Koch as the playwright Georg Dreyman, and Martina Gedeck as Dreyman's lover, a prominent actress named Christa-Maria Sieland.
The film was released in Germany on 23 March 2006. At the same time, the screenplay was published by Suhrkamp Verlag. The Lives of Others won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film had earlier won seven Deutscher Filmpreis awards—including those for best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and best supporting actor—after setting a new record with 11 nominations. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 64th Golden Globe Awards. The Lives of Others cost US$2 million and grossed more than US$77 million worldwide as of November 2007[update].
In the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1984, secret Stasi officer Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned by his superior, Anton Grubitz, to spy on successful playwright Georg Dreyman. Wiesler and a Stasi team bug the apartment, set up surveillance equipment in a nearby attic, and begin reporting on Dreyman's activities. Dreyman has so far escaped all but cursory attention from the authorities due to his staunchly pro-Communist views and his internationally recognized talent. Wiesler soon learns the real reason behind the surveillance: the Party's Minister of Culture, Bruno Hempf, covets Dreyman's girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland, and is using his power to rid himself of a romantic rival. While Grubitz sees this as an opportunity for career advancement, Wiesler is horrified by the abuse of power. Through his surveillance, he knows Dreyman and Sieland are deeply in love. Minister Hempf uses his knowledge of Sieland's addiction to prescription drugs to engage her in sexual liaisons.
After he discovers Sieland's relationship with Minister Hempf through Wiesler's indirect help, Dreyman implores her not to meet him again. Sieland at first refuses and flees their apartment. She walks to a nearby bar where she meets Wiesler, who, posing as a fan, reminds her of her talent. The encounter convinces Sieland to return to Dreyman.
Although a dedicated Communist, Dreyman is increasingly disillusioned with the way his blacklisted colleagues are treated by the State. At Dreyman's birthday party, his close friend Albert Jerska, a blacklisted theatre director, gives him the sheet music to a piece titled "Sonate vom Guten Menschen" (Sonata for a Good Man). Shortly afterwards, Jerska hangs himself. Wiesler is moved by this turn of events. Infuriated, Dreyman decides to publish anonymously an article on the concealed East German suicide rates in the West German periodical Der Spiegel. No suicide rates in the GDR have been published since 1977—the year East Germany had the second highest suicide rate in Europe, after Hungary. Knowing that all East German typewriters are registered, Dreyman uses a miniature typewriter smuggled in from West Germany, which he hides under the floorboards in his apartment. Before talking openly in his apartment, Dreyman and his friends test whether the flat is bugged by feigning an attempt to smuggle one of their blacklisted friends through the Heinrich-Heine-Straße checkpoint of the Berlin Wall. Although aware of the smuggling, Wiesler does not alert the border control police, and the conspirators believe the apartment is secure.
Dreyman's article on unreported suicides in the GDR is published and enrages the East German authorities. Through an agent working at Der Spiegel, the Stasi obtain a copy of the typed manuscript and realize it was written on an unregistered typewriter with red ink. Meanwhile, Minister Hempf is livid at being jilted by Sieland and orders Grubitz to destroy her. Grubitz arrests Sieland as she attempts to buy drugs at her dentist's office. Threatened with the end of her career, Sieland reveals Dreyman's authorship of the article. When the Stasi search the apartment, however, they do not find the typewriter. Grubitz then orders Wiesler to interrogate Sieland again, warning him that failure will cost them both. Sieland recognizes Wiesler as the man from the bar and tells him where the typewriter is hidden, agreeing to become an informant.
Grubitz and the Stasi team return to Dreyman's apartment and lift the floorboards, but the typewriter is not there. They do not know that Wiesler has already seized the evidence. When she sees the horrified look on Dreyman's face as he realizes she informed on him, a guilt-ridden Sieland runs into the street and is struck by an oncoming truck and killed. Dreyman runs downstairs and holds his dead girlfriend in his arms, weeping inconsolably. Grubitz offers his perfunctory condolence and leaves the scene. Realizing that Wiesler obstructed the investigation, Grubitz informs him that he is being demoted to Department M where disgraced agents steam-open letters. He assures Wiesler that he will be there for the rest of his working life. As he leaves, Grubitz discards a newspaper that announces Mikhail Gorbachev as the new leader of the Soviet Union.
Four years and seven months later, in November 1989, Wiesler is steaming open letters in a dank, windowless office, when a young co-worker (who had told an indiscreet joke about GDR leader Erich Honecker and was threatened with demotion early in the film) tells him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Understanding that this means the end of the Stasi, Wiesler and his co-workers walk away from their jobs. Two years after German reunification, former Minister Hempf and Dreyman have a chance encounter. Dreyman asks Hempf why he was never under surveillance, and Hempf tells him he was in fact being monitored. After uncovering the surveillance equipment in his apartment, Dreyman goes to the Stasi Archives to read through the files on his activities. He figures out that Sieland was released just before the second search and could not have removed the typewriter. Seeing a fingerprint in red ink on the final typewritten report, he realizes that Stasi Agent "HGW XX/7" had knowingly covered up Dreyman's authorship of the suicide article and had removed the typewriter before the Stasi search team arrived. Deeply moved, Dreyman locates Wiesler and watches him go about his new job delivering mail. For a brief moment, he considers approaching Wiesler, but he decides against it.
Two years later, while delivering mail, Wiesler passes a bookstore and sees a window display promoting Dreyman's new novel, Sonate vom Guten Menschen. Wiesler goes inside, opens a copy of the book, and discovers that it is dedicated "To HGW XX/7, with gratitude". As Wiesler purchases the book, the sales clerk asks if he wants it gift-wrapped, and Wiesler responds, "No, it's for me."
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's parents were both from East Germany (originally they were from further east; the von Donnersmarcks belonged to Silesian nobility but the region was transferred to Poland from Germany after World War II). He has said that, on visits there as a child before the Berlin Wall fell, he could sense the fear they had as subjects of the state.
He said the idea for the film came to him when he was trying to come up with a scenario for a film class. He was listening to music and recalled Maxim Gorky's saying that Lenin's favorite piece of music was Beethoven's Appassionata. Gorky recounted a discussion with Lenin:
And screwing up his eyes and chuckling, [Lenin] added without mirth: But I can't listen to music often, it affects my nerves, it makes me want to say sweet nothings and pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. But today we mustn't pat anyone on the head or we'll get our hand bitten off; we've got to hit them on the heads, hit them without mercy, though in the ideal we are against doing any violence to people. Hm-hm—it's a hellishly difficult office!
Donnersmarck told a New York Times reporter: "I suddenly had this image in my mind of a person sitting in a depressing room with earphones on his head and listening in to what he supposes is the enemy of the state and the enemy of his ideas, and what he is really hearing is beautiful music that touches him. I sat down and in a couple of hours had written the treatment." The screenplay was written during an extended visit to his uncle's monastery, Heiligenkreuz Abbey.
Although the opening scene is set in Hohenschönhausen prison (which is now the site of a memorial dedicated to the victims of Stasi oppression), the film could not be shot there because Hubertus Knabe, the director of the memorial, refused to give Donnersmarck permission. Knabe objected to "making the Stasi man into a hero" and tried to persuade Donnersmarck to change the film. Donnersmarck cited Schindler's List as an example of such a plot development being possible. Knabe's answer: "But that is exactly the difference. There was a Schindler. There was no Wiesler."
The film was received with widespread acclaim. Film aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes reports a 93% "Fresh" rating, based on 142 positive reviews out of 152. A review in Daily Variety by Derek Elley noted the "slightly stylized look" of the movie created by "playing up grays and dour greens, even when using actual locations like the Stasi's onetime HQ in Normannenstrasse." Time magazine's Richard Corliss named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #2. Corliss praised the film as a "poignant, unsettling thriller."
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, describing it as "a powerful but quiet film, constructed of hidden thoughts and secret desires." A.O. Scott, reviewing the film in The New York Times, wrote that Lives is well-plotted, and added, "The suspense comes not only from the structure and pacing of the scenes, but also, more deeply, from the sense that even in an oppressive society, individuals are burdened with free will. You never know, from one moment to the next, what course any of the characters will choose." Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan agreed that the dramatic tension of the film comes from being "meticulously plotted", and that "it places its key characters in high-stakes predicaments where what they are forced to wager is their talent, their very lives, even their souls." The movie "convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all."
American commentator John Podhoretz called the film "one of the greatest movies ever made, and certainly the best film of this decade." William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote in his syndicated column that after the film was over, "I turned to my companion and said, 'I think that is the best movie I ever saw.'" John J. Miller of National Review Online named it #1 in his list of 'The Best Conservative Movies' of the last 25 years.
Several critics pointed to the film's subtle building up of details as one of its prime strengths. The film is built "on layers of emotional texture", wrote Stephanie Zacharek in Salon online magazine. Josh Rosenblatt, writing in the Austin Chronicle called the film "a triumph of muted grandeur." Lisa Schwarzbaum, writing in Entertainment Weekly, pointed out that some of the subtlety in the film is due to the fact that "one of the movie's tensest moments take place with the most minimal of action" but that the director still "conveys everything he wants us to know about choice, fear, doubt, cowardice, and heroism." An article in First Things makes a philosophical argument in defense of Wiesler's transformation. The East German dissident songwriter Wolf Biermann was guardedly enthusiastic about the film, writing in a March 2006 article in Die Welt: "The political tone is authentic, I was moved by the plot. But why? Perhaps I was just won over sentimentally, because of the seductive mass of details which look like they were lifted from my own past between the total ban of my work in 1965 and denaturalisation in 1976."
Slavoj Žižek, reviewing the film for In These Times, criticized the film's perceived softpedaling of the oppressiveness of the German Democratic Republic, as well as structure of the playwright's character, which he thought was not very likely under a hard communist regime. Anna Funder, the author of the book Stasiland, in a review for The Guardian called The Lives of Others a "superb film" despite not being true to reality. She claims that it was not possible for a Stasi operative to have hidden information from superiors because Stasi employees themselves were watched and almost always operated in teams.
Awards and honors 
The film and its principals have won numerous awards. Among the most prestigious are:
The Lives of Others also appeared on many critics' lists of the ten best films of 2007.
Libel suit 
Donnersmarck and Ulrich Mühe were successfully sued for libel for an interview in which Mühe asserted that his second wife, Jenny Gröllmann, informed on him while they were East German citizens through the six years of their marriage. Mühe's former wife denied the claims, although 254 pages' worth of government records detailed her activities. However, Jenny Gröllmann's real-life controller later claimed he had made up many of the details in the file and that the actress had been unaware that she was speaking to a Stasi agent.
Proposed remake 
In February 2007, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella announced a deal with The Weinstein Company to produce and direct an English-language remake of The Lives of Others. Minghella died in March 2008 and Pollack died less than three months later, ending any possibility for a remake of the film by them.
Literature and music 
- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck: Das Leben der anderen. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-518-45786-1
- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck: Das Leben der anderen. Geschwärzte Ausgabe. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 3-518-45908-2
- A piano sonata ("Sonata for a Good Man") is used as the main transformation point of the Stasi Agent Gerd Wiesler. In the film, the score doesn't carry the name of the composer, as it is original music written for the film by Gabriel Yared.
- A text by Brecht, "Memory of Marie A", is quoted in the film in a scene in which Wiesler reads it on his couch, having taken it from Dreyman's desk.
- The poem "Versuch es" by Wolfgang Borchert is set to music in the film and played as Dreyman writes the article about suicide. Borchert was a playwright whose life was destroyed by his experience of being drafted into the Wehrmacht in World War II and fighting on the Eastern Front.
See also 
- "DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN - THE LIVES OF OTHERS". British Board of Film Classification. 2006-11-27. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- "The Lives of Others (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- Riding, Alan (7 January 2007). "Behind the Berlin Wall, Listening to Life". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-27.
- "The Lives of Others (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
- "Director's Statement". Sony. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Heiligenkreuz webpage. Retrieved 26 March 2009.
- Fundler, Anna (5 May 2007). "Tyranny of Terror". The Guardian (London).
- The Lives of Others at Rotten Tomatoes
- Elley, Derek (11 June 2006). "The Lives of Others". Daily Variety. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Corliss, Richard; "The 10 Best Movies"; Time magazine; 24 December 2007; Page 40.
- Corliss, Richard; "The 10 Best Movies"; time.com
- Ebert, Roger (21 September 2007). "The Lives of Others". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
- Scott, A.O. (9 February 2007). "A Fugue for Good German Men". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Turan, Kenneth (1 December 2006). "The Lives of Others". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 9 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Podhoretz, John (July 25, 2007). "Ulrich Muhe RIP". National Review Online. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Buckley, Jr., William F. (May 23, 2007). "Great Lives". National Review Online. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Miller, John (February 23, 2009). "The Best Conservative Movies". National Review Online. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
- Zacharek, Stephanie (9 February 2007). "The Lives of Others". Salon.com. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Rosenblatt, Josh (2 March 2007). "The Lives of Others". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Schwarzbaum, Lisa (2 February 2007). "Movie Review: The Lives of Others (2007)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- ""Why Dictators Fear Artists" (2007)". First Things. 23 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-24.
- Wolf Biermann: The ghosts are leaving the shadows – signandsight
- Zizek, Slavoj (18 May 2007). "The Dreams of Others". In These Times. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
- David Germain; Christy Lemire (27 December 2007). "'No Country for Old Men' earns nod from AP critics". Associated Press, via Columbia Daily Tribune. Archived from the original on 3 January 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- Nickerson, Colin (29 May 2006). "German film prompts open debate on Stasi: A forbidden topic captivates nation". The Boston Globe.
- "Ulrich Mühe Obituary". The Telegraph. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- "Weinsteins keep sight of Mirage". Variety. 28 February 2007. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- "Lives of Others set for Hollywood remake". The Guardian (London). 1 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- Carr, David (18 March 2008). "Anthony Minghella, Director, Dies at 54". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- Cieply, Michael (27 May 2008). "Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- John T. Hamilton: Conspiracy, Security, and Human Care in Donnersmarck’s Leben der Anderen. Historical Social Research 2013 Vol. 38 (2013), No. 1, pp. 129-141.
- Article in the Boston Globe about the film's political impact in Germany
- Interview in indieWIRE with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck about the film
- Directing 'The Lives of Others' (audio), a February 2007 Fresh Air interview
- Teaching material from digischool.nl
- Official website
- The Lives of Others at the Internet Movie Database
- The Lives of Others at AllRovi
- The Lives of Others at Box Office Mojo
- The Lives of Others at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Lives of Others at Metacritic