The Lives of Others

Eamonn Kiernan appraises the winner of this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar

Too often I go to see an Oscar winning film, full of high expectations, but leave feeling that it just didn’t live up to the hype.

Happily, this was most definitely not the case with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s directorial debut, The Lives of Others, winner of this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar.

It’s no coincidence that the film is set in 1984. East Germany has become the grey totalitarian world that George Orwell predicted. 'Big Brother' exists as the Stasi, a huge government department which spies on ‘the lives of others’, or those people who think differently from the Communist Party’s teachings.

The Stasi’s control of people’s daily lives is total. Their houses are bugged, their mail is opened, their phone calls are recorded and they are followed to see who they meet and what they talk about.

But the horrifying truth is that the Stasi work with the active assistance of about one third of the population. Ordinary citizens routinely report on their children, parents, friends and co-workers.

The Lives of Others tells the story of Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch, Black Book), a successful East Berlin playwright and darling of the regime.

The love of his life is his muse and the leading lady in his plays, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck, The Good Shepherd).

The duo are symbols of what is attainable to those who conform. But when Dreyman speaks up for a blacklisted colleague, his comfortable lifestyle changes forever.

Stasi veteran Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), begins a full monitoring of Dreyman’s life.

As his scrutiny progresses, Wiesler slowly changes his judgment that Dreyman is a dangerous element. He begins to shield Dreyman’s activities from the Stasi by falsifying surveillance records; a recklessly brave act within the dangerous world they inhabit.

We are drawn into the tense battle of wits that Wiesler engages in with his boss to justify taking no action against Dreyman. Meanwhile Dreyman becomes increasingly involved with the political underground

An article is published that is highly critical of the regime. Wiesler comes under and makes contact with a West German magazine. intense pressure to prove that Dreyman is behind the article. Will he continue to protect Dreyman and his girlfriend or will he destroy them?

At a time when global human rights issues are very much part of peoples lives due to the war on terrorism, The Lives of Others is an important film, not just a brilliantly acted and gripping drama. 

The film also serves to remind us that the rights of the individual are vitally important, now more than ever. The fact that The Lives of Others won the Best Foreign Film Oscar shows how important these issues are in modern-day America.

Scenes will resonate in your mind for days. It is a truly dazzling debut. Believe the hype, go treat yourself by watching an instant classic.

The Lives of Others is showing at Queen's Film Theatre from April 27 to May 10.