The Lives of Others is a brilliant feat of storytelling that portrays the necessity of artistic subversiveness in the face of political horror, specifically that of undermining the figurative and literal prisons of the Berlin Wall. In the story, Stasi Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is tasked with spying on the playwright Georg Dreyman. The film shows the various ways in which Dreyman as the enemy shifts in Wiesler’s mind, eventually leading him to make some difficult choices in understanding who exactly is a definitive enemy of the state. Stellar performances accompany a strong script examining the limits of human devotion to a cause that, regardless of rational understanding of its effects on the individual, can turn even the most practical participant into a monster.
I am certainly not alone in thinking the most beautiful part of the film is its turning point. A memorable moment when Wiesler, alone in his dreary hovel of an observation deck, listens to Sonate vom Guten Menschen and his character changes for the remainder of the film – an exceptional moment in the story as well as in Ulrich Mühe’s striking performance in the film. This moment – a quiet one that seems to balance the weight of everything the film holds on its thematic and emotional scales – highlight the beautiful and subtle stresses that hum underneath every moment of the piece. I found this truly captivating film all the more powerful in the context of a period piece with a lot of connections to a book I am working on. This beautiful film presents many of my intellectual turn-ons, not the least of which is its portrayal of being an artist examining the struggle of creating what is beautiful, what is right, and what is acceptable in a society embracing more and more totalitarian and suppressive behavior.
Ulrich Mühe’s performance is absolutely unforgettable.
This movie presents a really interesting perspective of history that I was only slightly aware of. This story sincerely puts the politics of East and West Berlin into the context of everyday lives. It was incredible for someone to write a script that focuses on the ordinary lives of the people living in this way, and what they are willing to do to shed light on their living conditions.
The twist that occurs with Wiesler as a character was great. At the beginning, it is easy to really hate him. But when he has that big character change in the middle, I came to feel sorry for him – almost more than the protagonists. He is a great character because of the range of emotions that we can understand, and the way the character develops in the story is simply fascinating.
I also enjoyed the epilogue at the end. We get to see what happened to some of the characters years later, and it is refreshing to find this in such a political and dangerous story. The sections with the file disclosures and the book with the dedication at the bookstore both lent a beautiful afterword to a great film.
In a way, this film has a lot to say about today. No matter how different our beliefs are, political and otherwise, it’s clear we have many more similarities than we have differences among us when we distill humanity down to its core experience. This is the most beautiful lesson of the film.