The Lives of Others, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, highlights the struggles of life in Stasi-controlled, East Germany. The film focuses on a playwright’s attempt to create change, and the Stasi’s attempts to suppress such change. Donnersmarck highlights the internal, moral struggle caused by the external pressures of East German society. Individuals were forced to find a balance between their personal lives and their relationship with the State. The Lives of Others highlights the consequences of this relationship being thrown out of balance. Ultimately, Donnersmarck shows that personal relationships are more important to the well being of an individual.
In order to fully understand The Lives of Others, one must understand the situation in East Germany in 1984. East Germany was under a socialist regime, known as the GDR. This regime was controlled by a secret police, known as the Stasi. The Stasi controlled all aspects of life, from the food people ate, to the clothes they wore, to the entertainment they saw.
The first character introduced is Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, he works for the Stasi and comes off as being extremely loyal to the State. He is given the task of watching Georg Dyrman, a popular playwright. His job is to make sure Dryman isn’t committing any crimes against the state. Dryman is loyal to the state until one of his friends, a fellow artist, commits suicide after being blacklisted. This drives Dryman to write an excerpt on how the GDR covers up the statistics on suicides, a clear violation of GDR law. Wiesler knows this yet does nothing to stop it. Eventually Wiesler’s superiors catch wind that Dryman is the author and use his girlfriend, Christa Maria Sieland, an actress, to turn on him. They go to Dryman’s house to retrieve evidence. As they enter the house, Christa Maria, overcome with guilt, runs in front of a car, committing suicide. However Wiesler had already hid the evidence. He is fired and Dryman goes free. Dryman, after the wall falls, finds out what Wiesler did for him and dedicates his new book to him.
Both Wiesler and Christa Maria struggle balancing personal relationships with their relationship to the State. Wiesler’s time spent observing Dryman’s relationship with Christa Maria leads to him turning his back on the State. Early in his life, Weisler made the choice to value the State above those close to him, every night he goes home, he is alone. He longs for the type of relationship that Dryman and Christa Maria have. This desire for human interaction leads to his corruption and causes him to betray the State, not reporting Dryman’s crimes.
Christa Maria does the opposite. She choses to turn on the man she loves, Dryman, in order to maintain a good relationship with the State and continue her acting career. However this proves deadly as she cannot take seeing her relationship with Dryman fall apart and Dryman go to jail. Christa Maria turning her back on Dryman, forgoing her personal relationship for the well being of the State, leads to her eventual suicide. Overall Donnersmarck shows that personal relationships are more crucial than the relationship one has with their governing body.
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch