“The Lives of Others” (German: Das Leben der Anderen) is one of the best foreign language films I have ever seen, and ultimately the best German film. It is a 2006 German drama film featuring caliber actor Ulrich Mühe who played the lead role. It also marked the feature film debut of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
The movie involves the monitoring of the cultural scene of East Berlin by the agents of the state’s secret police. It takes place in German Democratic Republic in 1984 which is under Stasi (the agents) control. The movie starts with the veteran agent, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, being assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman. He and another agent bug the playwright’s apartment and begin listening and summarizing what they hear. Instead of finding clues to accuse him, Wiesler soon empathizes with Dreyman. He begins to make false reports and protect the cause of Dreyman and his girlfriend as well. He becomes the secret hero for both of them. Near the end of the movie, Weisler is finally suspected of obstructing the investigation, but having no evidence against him, he is only demoted and assigned to open and read letters in another department. The film moves forward twenty years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dreyman soon discovers he was under surveillance all along. He researches Stasi files and finds out that an agent “HGW XX/7” had knowingly covered up his deeds. Two years more, Weisler opens a book published by Dreyman entitled “Sonata vom Gutem Mensch” (Sonata of a Good Man) and discovers it is dedicated to a “HGW XX/7”.
The movie has a very strong message, and is very deep and subtle. We see a hard and ruthless man gradually changing as he realizes the injustices and weaknesses of a government he is supporting. It is a very beautiful change-of-hearts movie. As scenes change, viewers are sent through emotional conflicts. There are dull moments, but the emotional investment from previous scenes brings anticipation and excitement. We see Germany not on a notorious war, but on a war of personal interests, common good, and real justice.
The movie has a beautiful ending as well. It can move one to tears. I suppose this is what we call a silent killer.
“The Lives of Others” is very well praised. It gathered numerous nominations and awards including the Golden Globe and the Academy. It has also appeared on many critics’ list of the ten best films of 2007 and of the decade. This is really of the essential films of the present age.
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