The Lives of Others
Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. 2006. R. 137mins. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck.
Gerd Wiesler (Mühe) is one of those gray men who brings to life Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil. He’s an agent of the East German Stasi, the secret police who kept the citizenry in line. Wiesler is frightening precisely because he’s so bland. But like Harry Caul in The Conversation, Wiesler has dedicated himself to monitoring other people so completely that he seems emptied out as a person.
He is assigned with maintaining surveillance on playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch), who seems to believe in all the right socialist ideals but is deemed suspicious by the government because everyone in the arts is a potential threat to a totalitarian regime. Wiesler bugs the apartment Dreyman shares with his mistress, Christa-Maria Sieland (Gedeck), who is a celebrated star of the East German stage. Then Wiesler sets up a listening post in the attic of their apartment building and basically takes up residence there. But the more Wiesler listens, the more he questions his own convictions. He learns about all the intimate details of their lives, but also about the struggles these artists face in a state that strictly censors their work.
The cast is consistently excellent, and Mühe in particular is brilliant. The last act of this mostly compelling drama, set after German reunification, feels a bit superfluous. But that’s a minor quibble with an outstanding drama. (Opens Fri)—HS