2006 - Germany - 137 minutes
Writer and Director - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars
I begin this review by quoting Jesse Vint III. Mr. Vint is a character actor seen in numerous films and television programs. (Click here to link to his IMDb page.) Of The Lives of Others, he states, "This film slowly gripped me, but by the end, the grip was merciless."
I couldn't have said it better. That's why I am borrowing Mr. Vint's words. As a matter of fact, when I first started watching this film, I was thinking that it wasn't going to be worth over two hours of my time. I soon discovered that it is worth far more. It turned out to be a deeply personal experience for me as it reminded me of certain shattering events in my own life. I actually had nightmares last night relating to those events which, I'm sure, were aroused by viewing this extraordinary film set in East Germany a few years before the fall of The Wall.
The element of the film that caused me to continue to watch even though I first thought that I was not going to be entertained was the depiction of the lead character, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler played by Ulrich Mühe. Mühe's interpretation of a man who appears totally devoid of emotion is hypnotic. The character Wiesler is an officer in the Stasi - the secret police in charge of following the movements and activities of every person the country.
The Stasi employed some 100,000 people to keep track of some 16 million citizens. In addition, the Stasi had a huge network of unpaid informers reporting the activities of their friends and neighbors. Imagine - one person to spy upon and report the lives of just sixty people. Horrifying!
Mühe is an actor who grew up in East Germany and was the victim of both the Stasi and "friends" who were informers. That surely had to add to his insight into the character of Wiesler, but whatever his resources, his performance is surely one of the finest ever recorded on film. Wiesler is a man so imbued with Communistic doctrine and devotion to the state that he has become an observation and interviewing machine more than a man. There is a revealing scene early in the film in which Wiesler summons a prostitute to his house. He sits on his sofa with his shirt buttoned to the top, trousers and belt still fastened, while the prostitute plies her trade - machine sex. The only hint of any human emotion is at the end when he buries his head in her ponderous breasts. At this point in the film is when I began to feel sorry for this pitiful man rather than hate him for what he does.
Wiesler is assigned to observe a famous playwright who has always openly supported the government - but why? We find that Wiesler's superior is having an affair with the lover of the playwright - a beautiful and famous stage actress - and wants the playwright out of the way. The motive behind the observation goes totally against the principles to which Wiesler has devoted his life and career. Thus we see a seed planted that will grow to change the life of this man. That change takes place as he observes the lives of others.
Along with this totally breathtaking film, the DVD contains features which truly enrich the viewing experience. Through these features, the viewer is treated to the history of the research that went into the film, the writing process, the historic locations, and the thoughts of the actors. They are not to be missed.
If you are reading this review, you probably have an interest in film. As a film viewer, you must see The Lives of Others.
August 27, 2007