Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film The Lives of Others tells the fictional tale of one of the East Germany’s Secret Policemen, Captain Gerd Wiesler, as he spies on a loyal communist playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his actress lover, Christa-Maria Sieland. As time passes, both Wiesler and Dreyman find themselves disillusioned with the government’s manner of operation – Wiesler for Minister Hempf’s use of surveillance to win over Christa and Dreyman for the mistreatment of other writers by the state. As such, both men chose to commit treason against the state, and this game of cat and mouse turns into a simplistic game of not getting caught when they believe no one’s watching. Thus, this film becomes a tale of two loyal patriots’ forceful metamorphosis into the very traitors the Stasi claim to protect against.
We are first introduced to Wiesler as he gives a lecture to future Secret Service agents. He explains his method of interrogation as the viewer is taken to and from the prison and the classroom. He is cold and calculating. When a student has the pluck to ask if the methods are inhumane, Wiesler ominously asks for the student’s name and marks it down. There is no look on his face that suggests concern for the student’s fate. The audience is left to surmise that the poor man’s career is over before it even began.
Likewise, Wiesler shows his dedication to the job when at a play, he seems more interested in watching the patrons than the acting on stage. He must know each person personally, without revealing any substantial about himself. Wiesler is even suspicious of Dreyman at first. He requests to watch Dreyman on his own, but is denied by his superior, as Dreyman is too comm...
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...ion. He lost the girl and his ability to write, but in a way, he has succeeded in his small revolution.
Dreyman’s revolution displays how a loyal communist can become at odds with his government when authority looks at citizens with mistrust. His tale represents the relatable truth for those living in the GDR. Similarly, Wiesler’s transformation from villain to unlikely hero is the product of becoming commanded to commit an abuse of power. Throughout the film, we see Wiesler grapple with his duty to his nation and his disillusion with that very nation as his rebellion parallels Dreyman’s. By the end of the film, we do not see the cold Stasi officer who interrogated Prisoner 227 in the very first scenes. Instead, we are left with a moved Wiesler buying Dreyman’s latest novel. All the fruits of his labor has paid off with the simple line “To HGW XX/7, with gratitude.”
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