The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Language -German
Genre - Thriller, Drama,
Release -2006

The Lives of Others (Release Poster)
I remember reading George Orwell's '1984' during my college years, a timeless classic that presents a dystopian vision of an oligarchical, collectivist society. As you watch the brilliant The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), one cannot help but get a sense of Deja Vu as the movie also deals with intrusive government surveillance and public mind control. Like Winston Smith, a worker in the propaganda ministry in Oceania, the secret police (Stasi) officer Hauptman Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is part of the 'police state' machinery and only concerns himself with the order of his superior officers without truly realizing the ramifications of his role in the entire scheme of things. But, unlike Winston Smith, Gerd Weisler's realization is not self-discovered but through the lives of successful playwright George Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and George's live-in girl-friend, actress  Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), as he is ordered to spy on them. Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in a remarkable debut, the movie expectedly won the best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Academy Awards and was also nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category.

In Germany, The Lives of Others set a record with 11 nominations in the Deutscher Filmpreis awards, winning 7 of them including Best Film, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Screenplay. For many German critics, 'The Lives of others' was the greatest German Movie of the decade. The publicity created by these accolades helped the movie gross close to 80 million USD worldwide, on a modest 2 million USD budget. The movie presents an interesting insight into a highly important aspect of 'police state' - 'Be wary of free-will'. Wiesler is assigned to monitor the activities of the good looking and successful playwright George Dreyman who had an education in the west. He decides to set up a wire in Dreyman's apartment to eavesdrop on his activities and assigns his spies to trail him to monitor all his activities. After days of listening to Greyman's conversations with his live-in actress girlfriend Christa-maria and their friends, the realization starts to dawn on him that Greyman might actually believe in Eastern Socialism. Things get complicated as Wiesler's  superior has a lustful intent on Christa-Maria  and wants Weisler to take Greyman out of the equation.

Ulrich Muhe as Wiesler
Ulrich Muhe puts in a remarkable performance as the stoical Wiesler, with expressions often conveyed with a movement of his brows. Like Ulrich Muhe, the movie also revels in it's subtlety. It is a movie with extraordinary power delivered in a very quiet tone, almost making you take the same journey as Weisler to the goal of self-awareness and the nature of the environment he lives in. The rest of the cast, especially Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck create extremely believable characters and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's brilliant direction makes you invest in them. This persuasive and expository tale of moral redemption, with it's minimalist approach, is European Cinema at it's finest.





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