Das Leben der Anderen (****1/2)

(2006) unter der Regie von Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – mit Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, und Volkmar Kleinert. English title: “The Lives of Others”.


Synopsis: It’s before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and East Germany’s Stasi has its hands plenty full keeping track of the thoughts and actions not just of the outright subversive, but of the clean, the believers–of the potentially subversive. Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler gets pulled away from teaching the next generation of secret police and tasked instead to a particularly important mission: listening in on playwright Georg Dreyman, one of the DDR’s only non-subversive writers. All because Minister Bruno Hempf finds Dreyman a potential threat, and because Hauptmann sees potential subversion in everyone; it’s what he teaches, after all.


Review: This is a movie that seems to get human nature right. The actions taking place within it are absurd, disheartening, malicious, frightened, pensive, and totally believable. These characters are not means to an end–furtherances of the plot–but actual (well, “actual”) people, living their confused, erratic lives from day to day, and wondering what’s next.

Everyone’s being watched, or about to be watched, and fully cognizant of it. A woman in an apartment building watches through the door’s peep-hole as secret police as her neighbor’s apartment is bugged. Wiesler realizes this and knocks on her door, which she opens; he threatens her, and when she agrees to say nothing of the operation, he turns to a subordinate and says “send Mrs. Meineke a nice gift.”

There are monsters here, and misguided souls, and victims. What’s interesting is how your certainty of which characters fall into which categories erodes as the movie moves forward, until, at the end, you’re not where you were before. You’re someplace different.

Rating: [••••½] out of [•••••]