MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2007)

Note: I’m heading out this afternoon for a week in California, so there won’t be any new posts after this one until December 31st. Check back then for my “Best of 2007” lists and some new movie reviews!

Set in 1980’s East Berlin, this quiet, intelligent movie (which won last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) provides an extremely fascinating and emotionally devastating look into life under the watchful eye of the East German secret police (the Stasi). Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Muhe, who died shortly after this film came out, is one of the Stasi’s best “Big Brothers.” He spends his days listening in on the lives of people the Stasi suspect of being a threat to Socialism, most of whom are guilty of nothing more than being artists. One day, he is assigned to listen in on a famous local couple, a playwright named Dreyman and his girlfriend, an actress named Christa.

At first, it’s business as usual, as Wiesler clamps a massive set of headphones over his ears and begins typing up notes about what Dreyman and Christa are up to. But the more he listens to them going about their lives, the more he begins to internalize their lives, mesmerized by the fact, I think, that they actually HAD lives. Wiesler himself mostly lives in the shadows — a serious man with no family or friends. Dreyman and Christa are exciting people, and it doesn’t take long before Wiesler has essentially come to adore them, eventually starting to lie in his notes and to his superiors in order to protect them.

In essence, this movie is the ironic story of a government that was so afraid its people would become disloyal, it drove them all to disloyalty. We see it happen first to Dreyman, then to Christa, and finally to Weisler himself. But one of the things I loved most about this movie was its ending. Without giving too much away, I think that an American film would’ve ended about twenty minutes sooner, following a traumatic scene that you know will change the lives of everyone involved forever.

Instead, the film jumps ahead several years, first to when the Wall comes down, and then to a few years after that, when Dreyman learns about what Wiesler did for him way back when. Instead of a startling and unresolved ending — the type so many movies seem to have these days — we get a real sense of closure for the characters. I was surprisingly satisfied when the final credits rolled, and that was a really nice feeling!

This is one of the most interesting and unique films I’ve seen in a really long time, and I’m so glad I watched before the end of the year so I could include it in my “Best Movies of 2007” list (which will be posted on December 31st). If you haven’t seen this one yet, I strongly urge you to give it a rental. Maybe not the cheeriest movie you could rent over the holidays, but it’ll sure give you something to think about.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Foreign/Drama
Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Kock, Ulrich Tukur

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3 Responses to “MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2007)”

  1. Trip Says:

    Agreed – this one was very compelling to watch and all of the good reviews are completely justified. There seems to be a number of these movies coming from Germany as they come to grips with their reunification, and so far, they’ve all been good.

    Another one I recently saw was The Tunnel – also featuring Sebastian Koch – about a champion East German swimmer (not Koch) who, with his friends, spends a year digging a tunnel under the Berlin Wall so they can rescue their loved ones from the repressive Communist government.

    Both films build to suspenseful and satisfying conclusions, both films are atmospheric, look great, and are consistent with their time periods, they’re well-cast and acted, and with both, you don’t mind reading the subtitles.

  2. megwood Says:

    Wow, cool — never heard of “The Tunnel,” but will definitely add that to my list! Thanks, Trip!

  3. Lorraine Says:

    Thanks Trip. I just added “The Tunnel” to my Netflix list. “The Lives of Others” would definitely be on my Top 3 list for 2007 (along with “Juno” and “Once”). There were several interviews with the writer/director von Donnersmarck earlier this year, including one on “The Charlie Rose Show” that I highly recommend. The backstory of the film, especially for actor Ulrich Muhe, is very compelling. I’m sure you can find information on the internet about it.

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