It’s 3am now and I should be in bed but I need to pen these thoughts before they are dulled by sleep. I have just watched “The Lives of Others” (or “Das Leben der Anderen” in German) and it’s been really a while since I was so profoundly moved by a movie.
Set in the 1980s before the re-unification of Germany, East Germany was controlled by a Socialist regime that demanded the complete compliance of its citizens. This meant that any dissident was thrown into jail and artists were commonly blacklisted and forced to quit their craft.
Wiesler is a staunch member of the Stasi (the secret police) and quite a respectable one at that. He does not pursue glory or riches, and dedicates his entire life to his job because of his devotion to the Socialist cause.
He is a staid man who probably never smiles at anything. He lives life by a routine and has a home that’s functional but cannot be said to be cosy. He lives alone, seemingly has no friends, has built his life around his career and is practically emotionless.
Soon, he is tasked to spy on a suspected rebel, famed writer Georg Dreyman, by his inept boss and former classmate Grubitz. Initially, he performs this surveillance (complete with phone tapping and bugs) with steel-like discipline and distance. But as he observes the warm dynamics between Dreyman and his lover, actress Christa-Maria Siegland, he starts to thaw.
Like a tightly wound up flower bud that starts to bloom, the many layers of Wiesler peels off slowly, one by one. He feels compassion, and creates a situation in which Dreyman discovers the infidelity of his lover. After hearing sounds of sexual pleasure between Dreyman and Siegland, he finds himself yearning for it and, more importantly, the connection between two people. He cries when he hears a heartfelt and emotional rendition of Beethoven on the piano and goes as far as to steal Dreyman’s copy of Bertolt Brecht’s plays. While he never used to relax, he now reads Brecht’s plays.
In other words, he discovers the soul that has been dormant in him all this while. And in time, he becomes Dreyman’s protector instead of predator.
The transformation of Wiesler is quite subtle and done rather elegantly. He is always in tight control of his emotions and throughout the movie, his face is always set impassively. But it’s almost you could see through his stony expression into the gentle unfolding of his poetic, lyrical side. It’s almost beautiful to see that transformation and as a spectator, you can’t help but be moved by the sacrifices Wiesler makes to become the better person.
The movie moves along at a serene pace, never rushing to the denouement and certainly not dragging its feet in order to give its characters the depth that they possess.
It was truly a movie that deserved its Best Foreign Film win at the recent Oscars.