Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
Cast: Ulrich Mühe | Martina Gedeck | Sebastian Koch
Original Title: Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
In the age of the Internet, Edward Snowden and possible Government Surveillance, a look back at “The Lives of Others” is very relevant today. Can people really change? How realistically can you act? Are you being watched? Is Big Brother watching you?
Humans also have this trait of looking into the windows of your neighbours, and looking through the windows of your residence. We like watching, sometimes it even takes a voyeuristic shape (Peeping Tom or think Hitchcock’s Rear Window) or other forms like surveillance. Humans love living vicariously by reading and watching more about the personal lives of others. In my honest opinion, I feel cinema-watchers are also voyeurs in one form (as offensive as that sounds). Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, describing it as “a powerful but quiet film, constructed of hidden thoughts and secret desires”. It’s what it is. But none of wants our privacy invaded as well. That explains the strange species that we humans are, as hypocritical as that sounds.
In 1984 East Berlin, HGW XX/7 an agent of Stasi, the East German secret police, conducts surveillance on a writer (Georg Dreyman) and his lover (Christa-Maria Sieland), finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives. At the time East Germany was ruled by a very strong Communist government and many forms of expression were denied, and censorship was widely in practise. Media was fully controlled by Government. Certain activities prompt the investigation of the lead characters.
The Lives of Others is a must watch for foreign film aficionados as it tells a very real tale of love, revolution, expression, and historical events represented in the movie. Delving more into the plot would spoil the movie experience. The Lives of Others must have been my first German movie and I loved every minute of it. The movie keeps you on your toes and makes you question what’s going to happen next and why certain people do certain actions in the movie.
Verdict : 6/7 stars.
The film’s budget, about $2 million (1.6 million Euros), was possible only because the actors were willing to work for 20% of their customary salary.
All the listening/recording props in the film are actual Stasi equipment on loan from museums and collectors. The props master had spent two years in a Stasi prison, and insisted upon absolute authenticity, down to the machine used to steam-open up to 600 letters per hour.
The punchline of the joke that Grubitz tells in the cafeteria, about there being no difference between Honecker and a telephone, is a play on the words ‘aufhängen’ and ‘neuwählen’. In terms of a telephone it means hang up and redial, respectively. In terms of politics it means hang somebody and elect someone new.
Included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.