Movie – Das Leben der Anderen
English Title – The Lives of Others
Direction and Screenplay by – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Country – Germany
Language – German
Cast – Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch
Releasing Year – 2006
Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others Review –
The year is 1984 (does that ring a bell?). A great wall divides East and West Germany. East Germany is GDR (German Democratic Republic), ruled by the socialists which also form the Stasi – the Ministry of State Security. It considers itself the ‘sword and the shield’ of the governing party.
Stasi keeps a close watch on everything. It is responsible for the behavior and actions of everyone living in the GDR. The citizens are strictly instructed to unquestioningly follow the laws, rules, and orders of the reigning Socialist Party. Not a soul is allowed to doubt any ideas of the party and any deviation in this is dealt with a ruthless prosecution. In that sense, the Stasi not only governs the land but it also controls the minds of every person residing there.
Freedom of expression holds no meaning under this dictatorship. Those not in tune with the ideas of GDR are punished. Artists(writers, actors, painters, etc.) lose their careers and right to live freely if they do not agree to the government policies. All the lawlessness, unfair dominance and injustice is swept under the carpet.
Anyone who is suspected to be guilty of disloyalty is secretly and intelligently surveilled by the Stasi. Those under suspicion are subjected to harrowing, inhuman interrogations. The State security has the right to install surveillance even of the most private matters of the people and carry out raids on slightest doubt. No allegations, not even trivial jokes against the State politicians are tolerated. A particular scene in the cafeteria where a junior officer casually jokes about the government speaks volumes about the constantly lingering fear in minds of the people. The viewer can feel the paranoia and the ever mounting pressure.
Under these circumstances, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is ordered to closely monitor the day to day events in the lives of the famous playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his beautiful and talented actor girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) who are being suspected to be disloyal to the government. This onset a fast paced thriller with a befitting climax.
While doing his duty, Wiesler gets almost personally involved with the ideas and the feelings of Dreyman and his colleagues. He cleverly betrays his officers and risks his career and life to save Dreyman from punishment. In the process, Wiesler and his seniors discover the shrewd diplomacy and betrayal of a very powerful State Minister who foul plays for his personal pleasures.
The film is a very intense look at the conflict in the human mind when subjected to inhuman repression. It shows what happens to a man when he is not allowed to think and express freely. Political suppression can lead to grave consequences. The movie is a stunning and thought-provoking comment on anarchy and dictatorship. At its core, it reinforces that a human mind is and will always be ‘free’. Even in the confines of a prison, no one can take away your thoughts. The film also shows the complex dynamics of close interpersonal relations, under severe stress and pressure.
Being a film, the storyline reminded me of the imprisonment of the famous Iranian director Jafar Panahi. The Iranian government has banned him from writing, directing any film or giving any interview to Iranian or foreign media for next 20 years. He is currently serving his 6 years jail sentence. This suppression of freedom has provoked many eminent people from the film fraternity across the globe to stand up for Panahi since they believe that art of any form can never be suppressed.
In the movie, Wiesler forgets his job as a security officer and gets passionately involved in ‘the lives of the others’. Towards the end, in spite of all the deadly chaos around him, his sense of humanity prevails making him a hero in our minds. The Berlin Wall falls in 1989 and the story continues.
Injustice has had its way for years. But the human mind revolts. Because freedom is every man’s right. No one will ever be able to possess the human mind and this fact has proved itself in rebellion and uprisings against tyranny and injustice across the globe for many centuries now.
This movie won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2006.