The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der anderen), directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a German film that depicts life in East Germany. When the movie begins, titles reveal that the secret police numbered 100,000 and informants were 200,000. Midway in the film another fact comes to light—that the government stopped counting suicides in 1977, when the rate in East Germany was second in the world to Hungary. Indeed, after George Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch) writes a story based on that fact, his article is smuggled to a prominent West German publication, and the essay becomes the centerpiece of the movie. When the film begins, Captain Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Mühe) is an instructor at the training academy for secret police. He explains that lengthy interrogation is used to determine those who are telling the truth from liars. Those telling the truth protest, get agitated, and retell what they know in different ways, he says; liars who hide the truth will stick to the same story and become calm despite repetitive questioning. But Wiesler is soon assigned to a case—to spy on Dreyman. The reason is that Bruno Hempf (played by Thomas Thieme), a member of the East German government, wants sex with his spouse, Christa-Maria Sieland (played by Martina Gedeck), a dramatic actress. She is having sex with Hempf so that she can continue to act on the stage. The purpose of spying is to somehow implicate Dreyman with a crime against the state so that he can be put away, leaving Hempf with a clear field to Christa. However, Wiesler gradually realizes that Christa and Dreyman are decent people, and his order to spy is improper. Accordingly, he provides false reports to his boss, Lt. Col. Anton Grubitz (played by Ulrich Tukur), until the publication of Dreyman’s article about suicides raises questions about the few secretly anti-Communist writers who have not already been forced to commit suicide by threats from the secret police. Eventually, Grubitz authorizes a search of the couple‘s apartment. Since Dreyman has hidden the typewriter under a floorboard, the search reveals nothing. Then Grubitz arrests Christa, assigns interrogation to Wiesler, who threatens to end her career if she will not talk, so she does. The secret police then organize a second search. However, Wiesler quickly goes to the apartment and disposes of the typewriter before the second search. When the search team arrives, she cannot face her husband, so she leaves the apartment, walks into a passing truck, and dies. Dreyman, however, is in the clear. Realizing that Wiesler has either extracted a false confession or is responsible for the incriminating typewriter, Grubitz demotes him to letter opening. The events in the story take place in 1984-1985. Mikhail Gorbachev is chosen as the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, and three years later the Berlin wall is breached. In 1991, Dreyman leaves the performance of a play and accidentally runs into Hempf, who in turn tells him to his surprise that he was under constant surveillance. He then goes to the archives of the former East German government to examine his file, which reveals that Wiesler fabricated reports to his boss. In the epilog of the film, Dreyman pays tribute in a special way to Wiesler, just as the film suggests that many unsung heroes resisted the Communist regime, albeit much more subtly than the true story about Germans betraying the Nazis recounted in Sophie Scholl (2006). MH

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