The Lives of Others – Review

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The people of mid-1980s East Germany can’t do, say of even think anything without the state knowing about it. The Stasi – and their thousands of informers – are everywhere, watching and listening.

One of their top operatives – and most experienced trainers – Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is assigned by the Minister of Culture to monitor a potentially subversive playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch).

As it happens, Dreyman has written an illegal article, but the officials don’t know this – the real reason for their investigation into him has more to do with the fact that the minister fancies his chances with Dreyman’s actress girlfriend.

Wiesler sets up his equipment in an apartment across the street, monitoring every exchange between Dreyman and his girlfriend and building up a picture of his beliefs.
As the investigation progresses, Wiesler begins to identify with his subject and starts to doubt whether what he’s doing is morally right, as he becomes aware of corruption among his bosses.

The end of the communist East didn’t come in time for the end of this tragic tale, but years later, after unification, years of repression continues to resonate through the lives of the characters.


This is a highly accomplished piece of story-telling from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – all the more impressive for the fact that it’s his debut feature.

He effectively conveys the claustrophobia, the sense of paranoia – both among the citizens and their masters – and general greyness of the German Democratic Republic during the dying days of communism.

The film is pushing two and a half hours in duration, but it never feels too long, with each element of the story unfolding neatly, believably and at the right pace.

Perhaps the only failing in the writing is that it’s not entirely convincing that one of communism’s most loyal servants should, after several decades, start doubting his purpose – and from a directing point of view, there are perhaps one too many “endings.”

But whether or not you’re familiar with recent Germany history, this film will hold your interest, the characters will grip you and you’ll come out feeling not only that you’ve been entertained, but also that you’ve learnt something.