The Lives of Others

Written and Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Drew sent me “The Lives of Others” for his new project called Play It Forward. I’m really excited about this project (even though it’s been a while since he sent me the movie - sorry!) and can’t wait to start reading other reviews as they come in.  I’m looking at you lil’molly!

“The Lives of Others” is a German film set in 1984 East Berlin. So, picture a grey, depressed city with an ominous sense of dread in the air. The Stasi, or State Secret Police, keep everything under strict surveillance and have a professed mission “to know everything.” Not pleasant. The movie focuses on three characters, a Stasi policeman, a famous playwright, and the playwright’s girlfriend - a famous actress.

I loved the way the settings and color match the mood and personalities of the characters in this movie. Wiesler, the Stasi policeman is a stoic, methodical, and diligent character. The film reflects his personality by always surrounding him with a simple, monochromatic setting.  He’s like a machine. Dreyman, the playwright, and Christa-Maria, his actress girlfriend, are the complete opposite. They’re artists and lovers who are trusting and playful. Their lives are portrayed with warm brown and tan colors. As the characters become more affected by one another, these colors and settings begin to mix more and more.

The plot: Wiesler becomes suspicious of Dreyman and is told to monitor his apartment. He listens and records Dreyman’s life, looking for any evidence of disloyalty. However, as he listens, he begins to feel more empathy for Dreyman’s situation. One of Dreyman’s friends, a blacklisted director, commits suicide which prompts Dreyman to voice his growing unease about East Germany in an article published in the West under a pseudonym. Of course, the Stasi aren’t happy about this article and make every effort to try and find out who wrote it. Wiesler, having become more aware of his own loneliness and unhappiness is forced to either hide what he knows about Dreyman, or turn him in.

I was struck by the evolution of Wiesler’s character throughout the film. After the blacklisted director kills himself, there’s an amazing scene where Dreyman is playing a piece of piano music that the director had given him shortly before his death. The piece, called “Sonata for a Good Man,” beautifully captures the despair and sadness of the moment. Wiesler, becomes visibly affected by it and begins to cry while Dreyman says to his girlfriend, “Can anyone who has heard this music, I mean truly heard it, really be a bad person?” That, and other poignant moments in the film show Wiesler as he awakens to the world around him, his ideals challenged. I don’t want to write too much more about the story because it’s a thriller, and let’s just say, it has a great ending.

I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who loves a dramatic, historical movie, with amazing character development. The visuals and sound design are also incredible. The second time I watched this film, I plugged in my good headphones and was really impressed by the precision of the sound and soundtrack.

At 2 hours 17 minutes, it’s not an quick watch, but The Lives of Others is a beautiful portrait of humanity in a dark period of recent history.

-Chad Jewsbury Chicago, IL