In view of all the recent revelations regarding the American government’s spying on people all over the world, tapping phones and reading e-mails, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Academy-Award-winning 2006 movie “The Lives of Others [Blu-ray]” (“Das Leben der Anderen”) has taken on an uncomfortable modern-day component even though the story of the movie takes place in 1984 in socialist East Germany. The main character of the movie is Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Mühe, a Stasi officer who is tasked with keeping tabs on playwright Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch). Wiesler, an experienced surveillance and interrogation specialist, slowly gets drawn into the lives of Dreyman and his lover, actress Christa-Maria Sieland (played by Martina Gedeck), who are both struggling, in different ways, to find a way to keep working in the highly repressive and controlled East German theater system while at the same time maintaining some of their ideals and humanity. Wiesler, who doesn’t have a life of his own and clearly wishes he could have Dreyman’s role in Christa-Maria Sieland’s life, slowly turns his peeping-Tom assignment into a guardian angel role as he starts to falsify the ill-fated lovers’ surveillance records in an effort to protect them. The acting in the movie is haunting and heart-breaking and draws the viewer into the characters’ lives in a fashion that runs parallel to Wiesler’s clandestine observation of the lovers. For German teachers, “The Lives of Others” can work well as a history lesson, as well as a German lesson. There are a number of history resources available (some are referenced below), and the language is quite useful as well. Because the movie is rather slow-moving and focuses more on human interaction than stunt action, the dialog is often fairly easy to understand for intermediate/advanced students. It can even be helpful to early students if used in conjunction with the English subtitles. The movie is available in the U.S. on DVD or Blu-ray, in German with English subtitles.
Detailed synopsis and lots of other information about the movie
Webquest to prepare students for the movie (information about government surveillance methods in East Germany)
Filmheft der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (free pdf download)
The Making of “Das Leben der Anderen” (on youtube, German only)
Complete movie on youtube (German with English subtitles)
Honecker joke from the movie (video clip)