German thriller: the lives of others, Das Leben der Anderen, The Lives Of Others


Germany’s Bringing Down The Wall

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives Of Others) - 2006

Written & Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Language: German

Through the course of history artists and creative groups have been driven by reason and circumstance to turn into breeders of anti-establishment sentiments. The early 1800s saw the birth of realism in art when artists such as Gustave Courbet and Jean Francois Millet decided to side-step the mythological theme that was being demanded of them. Since then, the advent of mainstream cultural mediums such as movies and music shouldered the responsibility of taking it to 'The Man' through pretexts, sounds or imagery under contrasting yet equally insisting crisis.

Authors such as George Orwell and Ayn Rand wrote stories set in dystopian times with their protagonists fighting to break free. Filmmakers sensed the need for creative representations of the cause and resulted in celebrated releases such as the tragically beautiful ‘Into the Wild’, the poignant ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and the more radical ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘Fight Club’ which will go down as different hues of the same sentiment. Musically, there were artists such as Frank Zappa and the Canadian power-trio Rush who recorded significant albums of their times that would set the course for their own careers while reigniting the flames for artistic freedom and social commentary.

In modern Tamil cinema our heroes and characters much rather prefer to beat the opposition at their own game, like Arjun in Mudhalvan or Suriya and his comrades in Ayutha Ezhuthu. The most fearless and outspoken counterculture personality within the industry would have to be Kamal Haasan. A man who is being seen today as a pioneer in his field couldn’t have been so if he strictly abided the norms of the industry. He continues to go his own way, sometimes swimming against the tide despite seemingly having the support of his peers.

Another swaggering individual, atleast on screen, would have to be the notorious Goundamani who seemed to have total disregard for every politician and any recognized institution. If there was ever a need to assemble an army of local anarchists, Goundamani would make for a fantastic general as he would have no trouble talking his troops into battle.

“You have to pick a side sometime. Otherwise you’re not a person”, Georg Dreyman, a successful playwright, is reminded by one of his associates in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘Das Leben der Anderen’ (The Lives Of Others)

The year is 1984 and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is stubborn in its agenda to promote socialism in East Germany. They are relentless in their pursuit and will paralyze any attempts made to influence other ideals in the society. Despite his popularity in the state, Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is being suspected by the authoritative government of non-conformist behavior. As a result they initiate an operation to have him monitored by bugging his apartment.

The man commissioned to undertake this job is Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a stone-faced and almost mechanical man with a wealth of experience and a spotless record, clearly pledging his entire life to the Stasi and the socialist government. Wiesler monitors Dreyman’s every single move, listens to every single conversation he has – private and professional, as he diligently prepares a comprehensive report to his superiors. During the course of the investigation it is established that the main motive behind the operation was more personal than political but incidentally Dreyman does indulge in an activity that could potentially pose a threat to the government. With an overwhelming accountability resting on him, Wiesler is subjected to his toughest test yet as he’s necessitated to take the most crucial decision of his career that could well determine the fate of the GDR.

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck does exceptionally well for a debutant in presenting this exquisite human drama that is set during the falling of the Berlin wall. He later went on to make ‘The Tourist’ but that’s a different story altogether! His presentation of the anti-establishment sentiment is passive and even poetic at times compared to something like the militant motivation of the punk rock movement. As far as performances go Ulrich Mühe essays a challenging role that demands hard-heartedness but is also required to come across a sincere individual going about his job when he could so easily be seen as a voyeuristic creep.

Considering the lingering prevalence of Big Brother-like governments and domineering chieftains, the conviction of this film certainly resonates strongly for every individual and any generation from Woodstock to the Occupy Movement and from Courbet to Banksy and beyond, ultimately triumphant with its basis serving as an earnest life lesson on the strength of humanism.

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