Seeing how I did The Baader-Meinhoff Complex yesterday, I think it's only fitting that I do a film about the GDR today and there is no better film related to the GDR that I could cover than The Lives of Others, a film focusing on the political oppression in the GDR, the Stasi.
The plot of the film concerns the efforts by a Stasi officer to spy on a writer, on the surface due to his writings potentially being damaging to the GDR but in reality so his boss can get the writer out of the way so that he can have the writers girlfriend. Whilst doing this, the Stasi officer starts to get attached to the writer and slowly starts to go against the Stasi, ending up with him concealing vital information from them. A big strength of the plot is how it shows the extent of the political surveillance in the GDR at the time. We see bugs placed all over the writers house so that there is nowhere where he isn't being watched or listened to. We see the ways the Stasi went about convincing people to become informants, people being demoted from their jobs for making jokes, some of the torture methods used to extract information from people during interrogation, mainly sleep deprivation, and how they managed to get people to not inform the people being watched that they were being watched. In one scene, we see a woman being told that if she tells the writer that his house is being bugged her child will be kicked out of university and when she agrees not to tell, she gets a reward. All this stuff though is the tame stuff in the GDR, the film doesn't go into detail about the forced adoptions, the deportations to the West and the even more brutal torture tactics. I also like how the film shows the political corruption by those at the top. While the film doesn't go into detail about stuff like Volvograd, we see a government minister using the Stasi for his own means, as stated earlier, and how they punish people working against them in the Stasi by putting them in the mail room, making it so they can't see the sun. We also see the political changes in the GDR during the 1980's in the background (if you want a film properly exploring the changes then I highly recommend Goodbye Lenin), from the repressive nature of the GDR in 1982, just before Gorbachev becoming leader of the USSR and ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The performances in the film are excellent all round. Ulriche Muhe is excellent as Wiesler. At the start of the film we see this really cold exterior created as a result of his work with the Stasi but over the course of the film, we see a more human side to him through his connection to the writer and the subtle changes in his movement and tone of voice really sell how he is trying to hide his feelings from his boss in order to keep his job. Sebastian Koch, most recently seen being terrible in A Good Day To Die Hard, is brilliant as the writer, Dreyman. We see his frustration with the GDR and the cover-ups in the state, going back to the political parts of the film when he writes an article for Der Spiegel about the SED covering up the suicide rate in the GDR after the suicide of his friend is left unreported. Thomas Thieme is great as Minster Bruno Hempf, bringing this really slimy nature to the character which feels a lot like how one of the higher ups in the GDR would act. Finally there's Martina Gedeck who is great as Christa-Maria, Dreyman's girfriend. We see the fear she has over her prescription drug addiction being discovered and her pain over being forced to inform on her boyfriend so as to avoid either prison or deportation.
Overall, The Lives of Others is a brilliant film. A great look at a period of history that doesn't get the coverage that it deserves and needs (the only time I've seen something cover the Stasi made since this film was an episode of Person of Interest) matched with incredible performances.
My Rating: 5/5