Cinema: “The Lives of Others” earns a curmudgeon’s ultimate accolades.


The blog record shows that in the autumn of 2007, I watched a film called The Lives of Others.

Released 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall marking the end of the East German socialist state, it was the first noticeable drama film about the subject after a series of comedies such as Goodbye, Lenin! and Sonnenallee. This approach was widely applauded in Germany even as some criticized the humanization of Wiesler’s character. Many former East Germans were stunned by the factual accuracy of the film’s set and atmosphere, accurately portraying a state which merged with West Germany and ceased to exist 16 years prior to the release. The film’s authenticity was considered notable, given that the director grew up outside of East Germany and was only sixteen when the Berlin Wall fell.

At the time, I made only a casual mention of the film, but noted that inexplicably, my cheeks were wet when it ended.

Until the return flight from Estonia two days ago, I hadn’t watched The Lives of Others a second time. This isn’t because I disliked the film. To the contrary: It’s because it is so very moving for me. On the plane home, it was all I could do to avoid crying. I cried just now when viewing the trailer, and again after reading the synopsis at Wikipedia.  

I love reading and music, but I seldom watch movies. That’s because life is too short for bad beer and cinematic schlock, and most films released in a calendar year are dire, derivative crap.

And yet, there are exceptions, and I believe that this film is one of the best ever. Period.

I never lived in East Germany, but stayed in East Berlin for a month in 1989, and those ghosts simply won’t let me be. Perhaps it’s because knowing what kind of person I am, it’s clear that had I been born into the GDR, it wouldn’t have been very pretty. The pegs were expected to be round. I’d have spent the 1980s in prison, or worse.

Truly, words fail me. If you have any interest in the period, and have not watched The Lives of Others, please consider doing so. Your two hours will be well spent. You may wish to have tissues available, but maybe I’m just weak that way.

The Lives of Others, review, by David Gritten (The Telegraph; 2007)

… The Lives of Others is that rare thing: a best foreign language Oscar-winner that fully deserves its prize. Beautifully acted, and making equal demands on our intelligence and on our hearts, it is a significant act of historical reckoning.