Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006) 

 

 

 

Director:     Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

Starring:          Martina Gedeck (Christa-Maria Sieland), Ulrich Mhe (Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler), Sebastian Koch (Georg Dreyman), Ulrich Tukur (Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz), Thomas Thieme (Minister Bruno Hempf), Hans-Uwe Bauer (Paul Hauser), Volkmar Kleinert (Albert Jerska), Matthias Brenner (Karl Wallner), Charly Hbner (Udo), Herbert Knaup (Gregor Hessenstein), Bastian Trost (Hftling 227), Marie Gruber (Frau Meineke), Volker Michalowski (Schriftexperte), Werner Daehn (Einsatzleiter in Uniform), Martin Brambach (Einsatzleiter Meyer).

1984 East Berlin, Stasi surveillance tactics changes the life of one Stasi worker

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

1984 East Berlin.  The population of the GDR is kept under strict control by the Stasi, the East German Secret Police.  The Stasi has 100,000 employees and 200,000 informers.  It's declared goal:  "To know everything."  

November 1984.  At the prison Berlin Hohenschonhausen.  Office of State Security.   The Stasi question a man.  On September 28, Dicter Pirmasens, your friend and neighbor, fled to the West.  He had help.  What do you know of this?  They keep having the man repeat his story of innocence time after time.  They are using the tactic of no sleep to break the man down.  His interviewer/torturer is Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, who looks a bit like Eichmann of Holocaust infamy. 

Stasi College, Potsdam-Eiche.  Wiesler teaches at the Stasi College.  He tells his class that "The enemies of our state are arrogant.  Remember that."   Even in the West the lie detector is not allowed in court, but Mr. Wiesler seems to have made up his own series of guidelines that can finger the guilty and let free the innocent.  Apparently, he thinks he's better than the lie detector.  Wiesler on tape threatens the interviewee with the arrest of his wife and the placement of his two children under state care. 

Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz is the head of the Culture Department.  Wiesler works for him.  Grubitz works for Minister Hempf.  They all attend a theatre performance.  The main actress is Christa-Maria Sieland.  Georg Dreyman, an East German playwright, is also in attendance.  Wiesler takes an almost instant dislike to Dreyman.  He tells Grubitz that Dreyman is the "arrogant type, the kind I warn my students about."  But Grubitz says that Dreyman is their only non-subversive writer who is also read in the West.  But Wiesler is not moved.  He says:  "I'd have him monitored."  Wiesler is further infuriated when the start actress of the performance, Claudia-Maria, turns out to be Dreyman's girlfriend.  (The couple actually live together.)

Listening to Wiesler, Grubitz gives the go-ahead to bug the apartment of Dreyman.  Dreyman gives a party.  He congratulates Christa-Maria publicly saying that she performed marvelously.  Dreyman's associate, Hauser, is at the party.  He is much more outspoken than Dreyman and is, therefore, regarded as a threat by the Stasi.  Dreyman asks Minister Hempf about the possibility of using as his director, the black-listed director Jerska.  Hempf does not like the phrase "black-listing".  He says that black-listing does not happen in East Germany.  He warns Dreyman that he better be more careful with his choice of words.  Dreyman says that the authorities judged Jerska too harshly, but this falls on deaf ears. 

Wiesler starts tailing Dreyman.  He sees Christa-Maria arrive late at night at her apartment building.  The next day Wiesler and his men wire the apartment.  Upon leaving the apartment he notices that the next-door neighbor across the hall is watching the Dreyman apartment.  He knocks on the apartment door and warns the woman not to say anything to Dreyman or her daughter will lose her place at the university. 

Dreyman pays a visit to Jerska.  Jerksa is miserable.  He asks what is the worth of "a director who can't direct."    Dreyman lies and tells him that Minister Hempf gave him hope about the loosening of his black-listing.  Christa-Maria gives a birthday party for Dreyman.  Jerska comes to the party, but sits by himself.   Hauser accuses Dreyman's current director of working with the Stasi.  Dreyman intervenes and Hauser leaves.  Jerska gives Dreyman a gift of music:  "Sonata for a Good Man."  Wiesler listens to all of this with a sour puss.  He writes in the official log that Dreyman and his girlfriend have sex (presumably). 

Grubitz and Wiesler have lunch together.  Wiesler tells his boss that Hempf's car was the one that brought Christa-Maria home at night.  This gives Grubitz an idea.  He tells Wiesler that the information might possibly be used against Hempf in the future.  Weisler is not to make any official notes of Hempf's movements, but to report on the man to Grubitz.  A second lieutenant in the lunch room starts to tell a joke about the top East German official, Honecker.  But when Grubitz reveals that he is Stasi, the officer is too afraid to finish the joke.  Grubitz tells him to go ahead.  The officer finishes the joke and then Grubitz asks for his name, rank and outfit.  The officer's face turns white.  Grubitz finally starts laughing and tells everyone that he is just kidding.  Wiesler is not amused. 

Hempf demands that Christa-Maria get into his car.  She does and he starts kissing her, fondles her breasts and then has sex with her.  Weisler watches from across the street as Hempf drops Christa-Maria off at her apartment building.  Weisler rings Dreyman's bell so much that Dreyman gets up and goes down to the main door.  There he sees his girlfriend with Hempf.  He is shocked and distraught.  In the apartment Christa-Maria takes a shower.  She wants to get any trace of Hempf off of her body.  Dreyman later walks into the bedroom to find Christa-Maria laying on the bed in a fetal position.  She says:  "Just hold me." 

The doorbell rings at Weisler's place.  He lets a huge, blonde prostitute into his apartment.  He has sex with her. 

Hempf tells his driver to watch Christa-Maria and report on her to him.  At night Christa-Maria tells her boyfriend that she is going out.  Dreymen tells her that he knows where she is really going.  He then asks her not to go:  "You don't need him.  You are a great artist."  She replies that Dreyman and his friends are also in bed with the authorities.  Dreyman is not the only one upset over Christa-Maria and Hempf.  Wiesler suddenly realizes what kind of damage the East German police state can do to good people.  It seems he is having a crisis of conscience.  He rushes downstairs and sets himself up in the local bar.  Christa-Maria comes in and he speaks to her.  He praises her and gives her somewhat of a warning.  She then leaves. 

Later when Wiesler returns to bugging headquarters, he speaks to the sergeant who is listening to the conversations in the Dreyman apartment.  The sarge tells Wiesler that although Christa-Maria left the apartment, about twenty minutes later she returned.  And all of a sudden there was a lot of very happy noises followed by a lot of sounds of intimacy.  She told Dreyman that she would never leave again.  The sarge has no idea of what really happened.  Wiesler is relieved and says "good report" to the sergeant.  Sarge is shocked, but also pleased to receive the praise. 

In despair Jerksa committs suicide.  Hauser, Dreyman and Christa-Maria will attend the funeral.  This gets Dreyman thinking about the suicide rate in East Germany.  He starts writing about the problem.  He notes that in 1977 the country stopped counting the number of suicides.  And in 1977 East Germany had the highest suicide rate, except for Hungary, another communist police state.  Dreyman and Hauser meet in a public place.  Dreyman tells Hauser what he is writing about and that he will give it as a speech at the funeral.  He also wants Hauser to help him get the speech out to the West.  Hauser advices him not to use his real name. 

Hauser and another man suggest that with Dreyman, they find out if Dreyman's apartment is bugged by the Stasi.  They speak really loudly about a border escape attempt.  When they learn that nothing happened concerning the threat, they stupidly conclude that the apartment is not bugged.  Just as in the case of the future disease known as AIDS, just because a person does not have AIDS one day, doesn't mean that he won't contract it the next day.  But the liberals start speaking openly.  They, however, were lucky.  Wiesler does not record their incriminating conversations. 

Dreyman is given a brand new typewriter of a type not registered in East Germany.  This way the East Germans will not be able to trace the typewriter by a comparison of type faces.  They hide the typewriter under a floor sill between two rooms.

Wiesler talks with Grubitz about slimming down the surveillance operations of Dreyman due to a lack of "suspicious acts".  But Grubitz fells a bit uneasy with the request.  He even says to Wiesler:  "You're hiding something." 

Christa-Maria is again a no-show for Hempf.  On the news comes the announcement that an unknown East German author gave a talk about the high suicide rate in East Germany.  Hempf reads Grubitz the riot-act.  Grubitz gets a typewriter expert to help, but this only leads to a dead-end.  Later Hempf tells Grubitz that Christa-Maria has been getting illegal medication and that he will probably want to take action against the woman.  He adds:  "I never want to see her on a German stage again."

The Stasi arrest Chrita-Maria.  She is very scared of losing her acting career and asks how she can help State Security:  "Is there anyway I can save myself?"  Grubitz tells her there is a way.  Since she has contacts with writers, find out who wrote the suicide report.  Christa-Maria starts laughing at this.  Of course she knows who wrote it.  She turns Dreyman into the authorities.  The Stasi descend on Dreyman's apartment, but cannot find the typewriter.  Wiesler breathes a sigh of relief over this failure.  Later Hauser tells Dreyman that it was Christa-Maria who ratted him out to the authorities.  But Dreyman sees the bright side, saying that she may be the guardian angel, for, even though she knew the hiding place of the typewriter, she did not reveal it. 

Grubitz grills Wiesler over his failure to identify Dreyman as the author of the suicide report.  He gives Wiesler one last chance to prove himself.  Wiesler is given the job of interrogating Christa-Maria again.  Grubitz asks him:  "Are you still on the right side?"  But the interview is a snap for Wiesler.  Christa-Maria willingly tells him the hiding place of the typewriter.  She also readily agrees to be an informant for the Stasi.   For her cooperation she is given certain privileges, one of which is access to her illegal medication. 

Wiesler hurries over to Dreyman's apartment.  He removes the typewriter.  Dreyman arrives in the apartment, shortly followed by Christa-Maria.  A little later, the Stasi break into the apartment.  They examine the hiding place.  Dreyman knows now that Christa-Maria told them about the hiding place.  He gives her a hurt look that really makes Christa-Maria feel guilty.  But even to the surprise of Dreyman, the typewriter is not there.  Grubitz is furious.  Christa-Maria runs out of the apartment.  As as truck comes down the street she steps in front of it.  Wiesler is the first to her side.  She tells him:  "I could never put it right."  Dreyman comes down to find her dead.  Grubitz tells Wiesler that his career is over.  Wiesler will now find himself working in the cellar.  But the news of the day is of Gorbachev being elected in Russia.  The quick decline of the Soviet Union and its satellites has now really begun. 

November 9, 1989.  Four years and seven months later.  The Berlin Wall comes down.  In the cellar, Wiesler and his colleagues leave their jobs. 

Two years later.  Dreyman leaves a play during the performance.  Outside he runs into Hempf.  Dreyman asks him why he was never placed under surveillance as all the other writers were.  The answer was that he was placed under surveillance; in fact, very heavy surveillance.  This is shocking news to Dreyman and starts him thinking about what really happened.  Why wasn't he caught? 

At the new Research Site and Memorial (made from the old Stasi building) Dreyman starts doing research in the archives on his case.  He reads all about his case in the Stasi files.  It is a huge amount of material.  While reading, Dreyman realizes that worker HGW was falsely reporting what happened to Dreyman's favor.  In the files it is confirmed that Christa-Maria worked as a Stasi informant. and she was the one that fingered him and Hauser.   He also reads that HGW was punished for what he did.  Then Dreyman asks for the name of HGW and learns that it is Wiesler. 

Dreyman goes to see Wiesler, who works as a mailman, but for unknown reasons decides not to speak to him.  Instead he writes a novel about the events and publishes it as "Sonata for a Good Man". 

Two years later.  In the book store window, Wiesler sees a huge poster advertising Dreyman's newest book.  He goes into the bookstore and starts examining the book.  He is stunned to see the dedication page.  The book is dedicated to HGW.  Wiesler buys a copy of the book. 

 

Solidly, good movie.  And things did not turn out to be like I thought they were going to be.  I thought for sure Wiesler was just another Eichmann, completely evil, even if banal.  And it was true at the start,  But the man has a crisis of confidence.  He realizes just how unjust is the system that he once believed in.  Non-political jerks like Grubitz were promoted over him.  These men were just using the system to make themselves powerful and wealthy.  They were not ideologically committed to "socialism" or "communism".  And Wiesler learns through following the lives of Dreyman and his girlfriend actress Christa-Maria just how unjust the system was being to these two basically good people.  So Wiesler completely flips, which was really a surprise.   A couple of times my wife rubbed it in reminding me that I was wrong about Wiesler.  Yes, dear.  The movie kept our interest throughout.  Right up to the end we were worried about Dreyman, Christa-Maria and Wiesler.   Actors Martina Gedeck (Christa-Maria Sieland), Ulrich Mhe (Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler) and  Sebastian Koch (Georg Dreyman) were all great as their characters.  We found out in the extra features section on the DVD that the actor Ulrich was actually a victim of Stasi activities.  He was definitely committed to working on the film. 

Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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