Movie Review: The Lives of Others

Posted on October 9, 2007

The Lives of Others is a fantastic period piece and top notch character study rolled into one. I was incredibly impressed with this film because every piece of it, from the acting to the writing to the color palette, were executed at an incredibly high level. There is no wonder that this piece won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

From the first scene it is evident that writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck did his homework. The sets, costumes and color palette were, by all accounts, spot on to the period. Even the dialog was looked over extensively by some of the actors and others who had actually lived in the GDR to ensure its accuracy.

Unlike other authentic period pieces that fall flat after the initial historical accuracy starts to lose its luster The Lives of Others continues on with a fantastic story.

In the former GDR people were regularly monitored to see if they were doing anything illegal or against the state. Artists, writers and the like were especially targeted. In The Lives of Others we follow a handful of artists and, in particular, one named Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) a playwright and actress respectively.

These people are watched at every step of the way by Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who sits in the attic day after day watching their lives unfold. However, Wiesler doesn’t know that he is about to change profoundly over the course of this monitoring assignment.

Wiesler, a career Stasi (GDR “police”) agent, lives a drab life devoid of any art and music but, through monitoring Dreyman and Sieland, he is exposed to great music, literature and discussion that leaves him wondering what he is doing with his life.

Donnersmarck could have easily had Wielser change quickly and haphazardly but he didn’t. He had Wiesler change slowly through a couple of small events. His changes were also brought to our attention through a number of small gestures. In The Lives of Others it really is the small things that make the difference which is very much like real life.

Over the course of the film Wiesler begins to help Dreyman without Dreyman’s knowledge and even though Dreyman is getting ready to publish a piece in a West Berlin magazine that would be damning to the GDR. I’ll leave it at that since I don’t want to spoil the film.

I honestly can’t say enough about this film. It is a must see and possibly one of the best films I have ever seen (and I have seen over 1000 or so - wow, that’s a lot - it’s almost embarrassing). They simply nailed everything from the smallest detail on the set to the complex interaction that is human existence. Well done.

I Took The Handmade Pledge!

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4 Comments so far
  1. MG Siegler October 10, 2007 3:20 pm

    I definitely agree. Certainly one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past decade or so.

  2. Eric Olson October 10, 2007 3:31 pm

    Speaking of good movies - the video you had on your blog about Tesla was great. Watched it today while I was grabbing a quick bite of lunch.

  3. MG Siegler October 10, 2007 9:51 pm

    Yeah, pretty amazing guy who’s finally coming back into the spotlight a bit (maybe partially because of Bowie’s portrayal of him in The Prestige?). I’ve had school teachers writing me to thank me for posting that video…

  4. Michelle October 16, 2007 5:28 pm

    Eric, I was so affected by this film. I saw it over six months and I am still moved by it. To me, this film is poetry - it’s so moving, beautiful, and chilling. It’s a human experience. My mom’s family lived in East Berlin and other parts of eastern Germany before escaping to West Berlin. For this reason especially, I found the film haunting. I highly recommend The Lives of Others to everyone.

    Strangely though, I tried to discuss this film with some of my German friends (a 30 something crowd) and too my total surprise - they were completely disinterested. Petra explained she was fed up with hearing her parents talk about German politiks her whole life. But obviously, that must be an exception, after all it won tons of impressive awards in Germany and internationally too of course. Best - Michelle.