Saturday, November 24, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen

In the East Germany (GDR) of 1984, Stasi Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (HGW), a keenly idealistic supporter of the communist regime, is shown interrogating a prisoner who is suspected to know who helped another person defect to the West. In the film, this is juxtaposed with his lecturing a class on Stasi methods. One of the class exclaims that sleep deprivation is "inhumane", so Wiesler replies that it is necessary. He claims that an innocent man will become enraged at the injustice, while the guilty will know he is there for a reason and will become quiet then cry. Then the prisoner is shown crying. Wiesler then points out that the prisoner has said the same thing in exactly the same words, which Wiesler claims shows that he is a liar who has rehearsed this line; someone telling the truth would say it in different ways. Eventually the prisoner reveals the name of the defector's accomplice.
Wiesler's old classmate, now a Lt. Colonel, assigns him to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman, who, Wiesler is told, is suspected of Western sympathies. Stasi agents secretly enter Dreyman's apartment in order to install small microphones in the light switches and electric sockets. Wiesler and his assistant Udo monitor the activity in the attic space above the apartment, typing a summary of activities for the record after each shift.
Wiesler soon finds out that the real reason why Dreyman is being spied on is that a minister named Hempf, a member of the Party's Central Committee, is attracted to Dreyman's girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria. If Dreyman is arrested, the minister will have free rein. This destroys Wiesler's motivation, as the job is not seriously investigating crimes against the Socialist state.
Wiesler secretly intervenes so that Dreyman will discover the relationship between Christa-Maria and the party member. A week later, when she is about to go to another meeting with Hempf, Dreyman confronts her with knowledge of her liaisons. Although they argue, Christa-Maria still leaves. Wiesler later sees her at a bar, and insinuates to her that her talent does not require her to give herself to Hempf. Although at first it seems that Christa-Maria carries out her rendez-vous with Hempf, Wiesler later learns through his underling Udo that this rendezvous in fact didn't happen and Christa-Maria went home to Dreyman after her encounter with Wiesler, although Udo is unaware of the implications of this information.
Dreyman is a supporter of the regime, but dislikes the way dissidents are treated. He publicly stands up for his friends if he feels that they have been unfairly treated. One friend, Jerska, is a director who has lost his reason to live due to being blacklisted. At Dreyman's 40th birthday party, Jerska gives Dreyman a gift of sheet music entitled "Sonata for A Good Man" (German: Sonate vom guten Menschen). Shortly afterward, Jerska commits suicide; this finally spurs Dreyman into speaking out against the regime. Dreyman arranges with West Germany's weekly magazine Der Spiegel to anonymously publish an article on suicide rates in the GDR. While the GDR publishes detailed statistics on many things, it has not published any information on suicide rates since the 1970s, presumably because they are embarrassingly high. Because all typewriters are registered, Dreyman uses a separate typewriter with a red ribbon to write the article, which he hides under the floor in his apartment. Before Dreyman and his friends discuss sensitive issues in Dreyman's apartment they test whether it is bugged: they pretend that someone will be smuggled in a relative's car over to the West. Later they conclude that the apartment is not bugged, because the car is not searched. Unknown to them, that is only because Wiesler has temporarily taken pity on them and had not understood that the discussion was in fact a test.
Wiesler listens in on Dreyman and Christa-Maria's conversations.
As Wiesler's empathy for the writer and his girlfriend has grown over time, he lies in his reports to protect Dreyman. Also, at his proposal, the hours of surveillance are reduced, so that it is no longer continuous and he no longer has to share the work with his more objective assistant. Eventually, Dreyman and his friends finish the article and it is published, angering the East German government.
Meanwhile, the minister, angered that Christa-Maria had chosen to no longer see him, orders Wiesler's superior, Anton Grubitz, to find some way to destroy her and tells him that she has been buying prescription drugs, illegally, from abroad. Grubitz and his men manage to catch her in the act of purchasing these drugs and she is arrested. Terrified, she turns Dreyman in, although she does not reveal the location of the typewriter. The house is searched for contraband by security officials, but by chance they miss the typewriter. Wiesler is called in to interrogate Christa-Maria. At this point, Grubitz begins to suspect Wiesler's newly found pity and implies that, even though they are longtime friends, a failure to perform his work will be very costly. Wiesler interrogates Christa-Maria (with his boss watching through the two-way mirror) with the same flawlessness and objectivity that characterized him for years. She breaks down and tells him where the typewriter is hidden. Wiesler, however, still determined to protect a couple he has come to care for, travels to their apartment in advance of the Stasi search team and takes the typewriter away.
During a second search, in the presence of Christa-Maria, when the hiding place of the typewriter is about to be opened, Christa-Maria leaves in shame and runs into the street, apparently throwing herself deliberately in front of a truck. The secret hiding place is opened, but is found empty. A helpless Wiesler who is watching the events just outside the apartment tries to tell Christa that he has the typewriter, but can't complete his words. Dreyman arrives at the scene and Christa-Maria dies in his arms. As a result the surveillance operation becomes pointless: Wiesler's superior calls it off and, distrusting Wiesler, ensures the end of his career. The newspaper lying in the front seat of Wiesler's car announces that Gorbachev is the new Party Secretary of the Soviet Union. Wiesler is demoted to Department M, where he tediously steam-opens letters all day. Four years and seven months later, Wiesler is opening letters when a co-worker with a radio notifies him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Upon hearing the news, Wiesler and his co-workers leave.
At the end of the film, after German reunification, Dreyman encounters the former minister at the playhouse and asks why his apartment was never bugged. The minister ironically details the scope of Dreyman's extensive surveillance, telling him where to look for the equipment. Dreyman finds the wires and becomes perplexed as to how he was never caught. The Stasi's archives are now open to the public; he goes there, reads his own file, and learns the truth. While agent "HGW XX/7" must have heard Dreyman and his friends conducting anti-regime activities (such as the writing of the suicide article), HGW did not report those things in his voluminous typed notes, and had falsely written instead that Dreyman was writing a play on Lenin, a topic the regime would have approved. Next to the final page of notes is a smudge from the secret typewriter's red ink, demonstrating that it was HGW who removed the typewriter. Dreyman now asks for the identity of "HGW XX/7" and is shown his name and photo. He takes a taxi and watches Wiesler for a few moments, working at his new job delivering leaflets.
Two years later, Dreyman publishes his novel "Sonata for A Good Man". By chance, Wiesler sees the book in a bookstore, and finds that it is dedicated "To HGW XX/7, with gratitude". He goes to buy the book and the cashier asks if he would like to have it gift wrapped. "No," Wiesler responds, "it's for me."

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