The Lives of Others
- Pages: 6
- Word count: 1428
- Category: College Example
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For nearly five decades, millions of people in East Germany lived under the control of one of the most sophisticated secret police the world had ever known, the Stasi. Through bribery, coercion, and intrusion, the Stasi had one definitive and simple goal: to know everything about “the lives of others. ” In The Lives of Others, Gerd Wiesler is the quintessential Stasi agent. He is unemotional, cold, and efficient. However, through the process of spying on playwright Georg Dreyman and actress Christa-Maria Sieland’s everyday life, he undergoes a transformation.
The more he listens to his victims, the more sympathy he gains. In the course of Wiesler’s surveillance, it is the power of the arts and passion that opens up new worlds of thought and feeling to him. Wiesler, with his seething stillness, is shown as a true patriot of the GDR. He is highly effective in his work and absolutely committed to the Party- taking the state ideals at face value. This is portrayed in the few opening scenes, as Wiesler is interrogating a man suspected of helping his neighbor flee to the West. As the man enters the room, Wiesler is stern and straight-to-the-point with his commands, “Sit down.
Hands under your thighs, palms down. ” 40 hours into the interrogation, the lighting in the room has dimmed. Soft light positioned in corners illuminates Wiesler and the prisoner, creating hard and distinct shadows on Wiesler’s face. This type of lighting creates an ominous atmosphere and establishes Wiesler as a cold, pitiless agent. When the prisoner protests his innocence, Wiesler icily retorts that the very thought that the East German system is capable of imprisoning people without cause “alone deserves imprisonment.
Finally, the prisoner begins to weep and provides a name. Simultaneously in this scene, Wiesler is lecturing to students about how to identify lying suspects. He describes “by-the-book” techniques with mechanical precision, presenting additional details and explanations. When a student asks whether sleep deprivation as a method of torture is humane, Wiesler states that it is treason to even question the GDR’s methods or ideology and refers to prisoners as “enemies of Socialism. ” He then proceeds to put an “X” next to the student’s name on the class roster.
In spite of this, early in the film, Wiesler begins to question the loyalty and value of the Stasi when he witnesses corruption and cynicism. Wiesler realizes that his friend, Grubitz, holds limited allegiance to the Party and is driven mostly by favors. Grubitz longs to further his own prospects within the Party system, an action reminiscent of Grubitz’s habit of cheating off Wiesler in school. Wiesler is then asked by Grubitz to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman and girlfriend Christa-Maria, because he suspects Dreyman of disloyalty to the Party.
As Wiesler sets about the task of bugging Dreyman’s apartment, he displays stark efficiency of his body and movements. While the other Stasi agents scurry up the stairs with flailing arms, Wiesler remains calm, but stern-walking in an erect position with his hands in his pockets-prototypical of the grim demeanor of the Stasi. However, Wiesler soon learns that his surveillance order has more to do with the libido of Minister Hempf than with state security. It is clear that Wiesler is not being asked to find incriminating evidence, but to manufacture it. Wiesler’s motivation is damaged as he sees the minister’s abuse of power.
To subtly derail this, Wiesler rings Dreyman’s doorbell when Minister Hempf drops Christa-Maria outside the apartment building, causing him to look outside and see her climb out of the car. This deed is the first hint of Wiesler’s acting for the good of individuals rather than for the faceless Party. Wiesler’s change of heart intensifies as he develops a peculiar relationship with Christa-Maria, a human personification of the arts. He appears to be enchanted and mystified by Christa-Maria’s half-hidden fragility and vulnerability, as they very much parallel his own.
From camera close-ups of her fidgeting hands to her habit of looking down and rubbing her neck when confronted with her illegal addiction to prescription drugs, Christa-Maria exhibits a harrowing beauty. At one point in the film, Wiesler approaches her in a bar. Aware of her argument with Dreyman about her infidelity with Hempf for drugs in return, Wiesler tells her that he is a “great fan of her performance,” insinuating that her talent is great enough that she doesn’t need to sell herself. Christa-Maria responds, “actors are never who we are,” to which Wiesler responds that she is the person he sees, stating, “I’m your audience.
The cross-cutting of close-ups in this scene separates Wiesler and Christa-Maria into different frames and expresses their distinctions; however, their faces are treated equally and in alternation, asserting their similarity and connection. Wiesler’s act of kindness is also further indication of his moral awakening and the softening of his heart. Wiesler spends nights in the attic listening to and transcribing the couple’s every word and gesture, compiling a detailed soundtrack of their lives. What he discovers is two people passionately devoted to their art, and to each other.
To Wiesler, someone who has long been alienated from human warmth, it comes as a revelation. Wiesler becomes drawn into the world of Dreyman and Christa-Maria, causing him to question his own life and actions. Wiesler is enticed by the possibility of art, meaning, and love as he discovers the potential of a more fulfilling existence. He appears to fall in love with Dreyman, not in a sexual way, but instead by embracing Dreyman’s idealism, faith, and imagination. As the camera cuts back and forth from Wiesler to Dreyman and Christa, Wiesler is concentrated and focused on their interactions.
Hunched like a gargoyle, Wieslier immerses himself into the passionate conversations between Dreyman and his friends-fascinated by their lives of love, free-thinking, and literature-the substance of a plentiful and meaningful life. Thus, Wiesler recognizes the soullessness of his own existence. One day, Wiesler enters the apartment, hoping to discover and connect with the same things that inspire Dreyman. He surveys the apartment with a childlike intensity, softly stroking the bed and shelves, and pausing to look at pictures with curious eyes.
Swiping a copy of Brecht’s poems from the apartment, Wiesler experiences for the first time in his life what it’s like to savor the written word. In this tilting vertical shot, the camera gradually moves from Wiesler’s hands to a close-up of his face while he reading. Because the tilt changes in angle, it is hinted that Wiesler undergoes a psychological change. A significant moment of Wiesler’s transformation occurs as Dreyman plays Sonata for a Good Man on the piano in memory of Jerska. Confined in the attic, Wiesler is moved to tears, displaying raw emotion for the first time in the film.
The camera is shown in a slow panoramic movement around Wiesler’s chair, suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship between Dreyman’s piano-playing and Wiesler himself, and highlighting a connection between the two. The pure, sad simplicity of Wiesler is captured by the melancholy tune Dreyman plays on the piano. Wiesler is so affected and overwhelmed by his moral awakening that he proceeds to fabricate his reports to protect those who have unknowingly brought him to life. For example, even as Dreyman and his colleagues discuss plans to write about the shocking suicide rate in the GDR, Wiesler omits these details.
He begins to conclude reports with “no further significant events” and goes as far as making up actions and activities. Set in late autumn-winter, The Lives of Others is filmed in bleak, cold light and consists of mainly gray colors. It is profuse of empty streets and rising smoke from rooftops. Citizens are dressed in drab color, with their heads down, briskly walking in their destinations. In a society where everything and everyone is codified and conventionalized, where streets and buildings have been drained of color, Wiesler discovers passion, love, and innocence.
Seeing in the artists a new kind of faith, a commitment to compassion, Wiesler is transformed by art. The Lives of Others suggests that art has the ability to humanize man. Minister Hempf even refers to artists as “engineers of the soul of mankind. ” Art can lift the soul, and feed what food and material possessions cannot. Art can enlarge perspectives in positive ways and inspire hope, movement, and genuine fellow-feeling. In Wiesler’s case, art-music, literature, and theater-transcends politics. Wiesler’s glimpses into the world of an artist and new appreciation of the significance of love and art ultimately lead to his moral redemption.
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