Coffee shops are quite misleading. What appears to be a small and innocent space setup to enjoy your favorite beverage is often overshadowed by your friendly neighborhood “loud talker”. I typically spend a portion of each day in such a venue inevitably seeing and hearing more about other people’s lives than I care to. The ideas of seeing and hearing are no stranger to this site – nor are they to director/writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (what a name), who took the task seriously as he literally peers into the “lives of others” in his Oscar winning film Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).
With East Berlin in the mid 80s as the backdrop, von Donnersmarck juxtaposes the rigidity of the ruling Socialist party with that of a (secretive) free-thinking writer Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). As soon as Dreyman becomes suspicious of anti-Socialist thinking, the secret police (Stasi) decide to setup full surveillance of him – a decision that unveils the crux of von Donnersmarck’s explorations. As the Stasi surveillance leader, Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe), continues to delve into Dreyman’s life, his eyes and ears begin to shift from interrogation to obsession. The inquisitions turn from someone else’s life to his own.
But this is not simply a “spy” film. Von Donnersmarck’s is asking basic questions about the nature of humanity. What lies at its core? Goodness? Evil? Can even the most callous of individuals be considered a “good man”? Is seeing and/or experiencing any beauty of humanity subjective or real? In Das Leben der Anderen, these questions become more complex than your theological tendencies might suggest.
As we continue to explore the art of seeing and hearing on this site, we invite you to dip into the foreign film world the next time you are renting at home and do the same. And as always, let us know what you think.