Released Today: The Lives of Others (2006)
What was East Germany like before the fall of the Berlin Wall? A look into Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others (original title: Das Leben der Anderen) could give you an idea. Donnersmarck spent three years writing what would become his first feature and best-known film. While listening to some music, the idea, which was necessary for an assignment in film class, was inspired by a recalled by a quote Maxim Gorky had mentioned regarding Lenin's favorite musical piece, Beethoven's "Appassionata". In an interview with The New York Times, Donnersmarck states:
"I suddenly had this image in my mind of a person sitting in a depressing room with earphones on his head and listening into what he supposes is the enemy of the state and the enemy of his ideas, and what he is really hearing is beautiful music that touches him".
This simple yet captivating idea would soon evolve into the masterpiece that was released on March 23, 2006.
The Lives of Others could not feature a more brilliant script. As poetic as each segment is significant, Donnersmarck mixes love, music, and politics, and reminds us that despite popular belief, even the worst of us are capable of change. The film follows Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), an expert interrogator put in charge of observing playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend and actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), under initial suspicion that Dreyman may be planning something against the German Democratic Republic and seeking to break away from socialism. Wiesler, a true believer in the power of the Stasi and the GDR, accepts the task without question. In fact, he is the first to bring up his mistrust in the playwright. Although he takes his mission to heart, monitoring every detail and jotting them across his typewriter, he soon finds himself drawn to the couple's life, and even takes the time to reflect on his own.
Just as music had inspired the young director, music also sparked a change in Wiesler's heart. The film continues to unfold in such a way that we not only witness the changes before our very eyes, but also experience and understand them. While it may seem difficult to believe that a member of the state security force, especially of such status, could encounter such a transformation in so little time, Mühe's delivery, and the script's pacing, makes the whole idea seem credible. In the end, the interrogator risks his life and many years of career in order to not only save Dreyman and his lover, but also in a sense, to save himself. And many years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, his efforts are finally acknowledged.
The film's success was not only due to the intricate screenplay devised by Donnersmarck, but also due to the great casting, and especially due to the role that Mühe played. The actor witnessed the harsh reality of the GDR, as he was once under surveillance, his then-wife working as an informant with the Stasi. These events were brought back into memory as he prepared for his role.
As we celebrate seven years since The Lives of Others first appearance on the silver screen, we also remember the passing of Mühe, on July 22, 2007, from stomach cancer. He was 54. The versatile actor, both on the screen and on the stage, was known for his ability to portray both comic and serious roles. Throughout his lifetime, he won Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the German Film Awards, Best Actor at the Bavarian Film Awards, Golden Swan for Best Actor at the Copenhagen International Film Festival, Best Actor at the European Film Awards, and Best Actor at the German Film Critics Association Awards, all in 2006.
Have you seen The Lives Of Others? How would you say the film is effective? Let us know in the comments below!
Nathania Wreh is a film studies student at Concordia University in Montreal. Follow her on Twitter @heyitsnattiie