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James Harding

By James Harding | Goethe Institute

"It has been over a decade since Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wrote and directed Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), a not altogether historically accurate yet nonetheless interesting film from 2006 about the destructive methods of surveillance employed by the East German Secret Police (STASI).

Briefly stated, the film focuses on the gradual disillusionment of the Stasi officer, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, who is tasked with gathering compromising information on a successful East German playwright by the name of Georg Dreyman, which in turn can be used against him by the Minister of Culture who is interested in Dreyman’s actress-girlfriend. This takes place around 1984 and eventually results in the girlfriend’s suicide and in the Stasi agent Wiesler sacrificing his own career to protect the playwright from the unjust plot against him. It all makes for a solid low-key thriller. But what makes the film worthwhile is von Donnersmarck’s willingness in its final segments to push the narrative forward some five or six years to the point when, after the fall of the wall, the previously targeted playwright finally grasps what actually transpired earlier. Reading his Stasi files, Dreyman realizes the extent to which the Stasi had invaded his and his girlfriend’s privacy as well as the extent to which that invasion constituted an obscene abuse of power, and, following the film’s basic conceit, he also recognizes the personal sacrifice that the individual agent Wiesler made on his behalf. Indeed, by the film’s end, that sacrifice has become an idealistic and, to a great extent, unrealistic point of contrast to a political system tempted and ultimately corrupted by the powerful tools of surveillance at its disposal."

Read the complete article at the Goethe Institute.