The Lives of Others (original title in German: Das Leben der Anderen) is an Academy Award-winning German movie, marking the feature film debut of director/screenwriter Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, along with seven Deutscher Filmpreis awards including best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor and best supporting actor, after having set a new record with 11 nominations. It was also nominated for and won Best Foreign Language Film at the 64th Golden Globe Awards.
The thriller/drama is about the cultural scene of East Berlin, monitored by secret agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s secret police. It stars Ulrich Mühe as Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler, Ulrich Tukur as his chief officer Anton Grubitz, Sebastian Koch as the playwright Georg Dreyman, and Martina Gedeck as his lover Christa-Maria Sieland.
The plot begins in 1984 East Germany. The Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler, a heart-felt supporter of the communist regime, is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman, who is suspected of Western leanings. Stasi agents secretly bug Dreyman’s apartment. In the attic of the apartment building hide Wiesler and an assistant who take turns monitoring the activity below 24 hours a day. They report anything that might be relevant.
Dreyman is a supporter of the regime, but dislikes the way dissidents are treated. When Jerska, an artist friend commits suicide because he has been blacklisted for several years, Dreyman publishes anonymously in West Germany an article on suicide rates in the GDR: while it publishes detailed statistics on many things, since the 70s it does not publish any statistics on suicide rates, presumably because they are embarrassingly high.
The East Germans blackball artists, performers, writers and others that speak about government, especially anything negative. Some lose their jobs or passion and commit suicide.
Back to present time in America…
American spy agencies like NSA monitor ALL communications – the East Germans of 1984 only monitored selected people. American Computers scan communications for key word combinations – the Germans required human listeners to monitor dialog. Some Americans and family members were imprisoned without protection of Constitutional amendments – the same happened to East Germans in 1984.
Americans are blackballed from their profession by labeling them felons. A felon can merely be a person that has defended himself from the aggravated assault of a confused or malicious police officer. East Germans were blackballed by similar labels and laws.
Dreyman was on the verge of prison for publishing an article on suicide rates in the GDR. I wrote a proposal to the National Science Foundation to report trends in significant statistics such as suicide rates only to have my proposal not only completely rejected but ridiculed.
I watched the movie and wondered if America isn’t as bad as the evil East Germany Stasi. This is a great movie because it causes the viewer to reflect on the merits and morals of government. The writer, screenwriter and director get my nomination as Utopian heroes.