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DM's: Privacy Means Nothing - An Analysis of The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Updated on May 6, 2016

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Das Leben der Anderen

This is an original draft by David Mayes. Not meant for citation.

While watching a German film such as The Lives of Others it is easy to identify a vast number of problems that plagued the German people for much of their recent history. Before the fall of the German Democratic Republic, commonly abbreviated as GDR, many East German citizens were under the complete control of their government. The citizens were not allowed to criticize their government, which meant that free speech was nothing more than a diminishing hope for their future. The word privacy was not even murmured because it simply did not exist. The tool used by many officials to get information (whether it be good or bad, right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate) was blackmail, which destroyed relationships and left the populace in a constant state of fear, unable to trust any single person. This film also shows the element of the courage a few to rebel. This type of courage is not well rewarded in most films akin to The Lives of Others, such as The Lost Honour of Katherina Blum, but in this film Georg Dreyman, codename ‘Lazlo,’ has a happier ending than expected.

Georg Dreyman is faced with terrible times when his good friend Albert Jerska commits suicide. He can’t even muster up the strength to continue his writings. Instead of attempting to struggle through his pain he decides to rebel and publish an article that will send the GDR leaders into a frenzy. The article claims that the GDR has the second highest suicide numbers, second to Hungary, and that Albert is just the latest of people to take his life because of great injustices by the GDR government officials. Of course Georg can’t publish the article under his own name, even though it is published in the West, because there is no such concept of freedom of speech. For a man to make an attempt at free speech is to sign his own death certificate and possibly a few for his close friends and relatives.

The film really brings to light how little free speech a person had in this time, during the reign of the GDR. The Lives Of Others shows similar concepts as to those in Maria Braun. The similarities lie in the fact that if you are against the government, your side will not see the light of day and your entire life will be destroyed and ripped to shreds. One thing The Lives of Others did really well was show how the country changed after the wall and the GDR fell. Georg was allowed to go view the entire case that was drawn up against him, and was even allowed to know the person who reported his actions. This detective, detective Wiesler, either accidentally or purposely left a red fingerprint on his last report, This red fingerprint signified that Wiesler hid the secret typewriter, that was used in typing the slanderous article, and saved Georg. The change that happened after the fall of the GDR was evident even more as Wiesler was honored in the later published work from Georg. Though Wiesler was found out and lost his job as a detective, being demoted to mail duties, the end of the film was hopeful as he purchased the book and said ‘It’s for me’ to the cashier. This signified that the book was dedicated to him and that he can buy this book without fear of punishment.

Another big problem that is exposed in this film is the lack of privacy that the citizens were given. This is most obvious as Georg’s apartment is broken into and wires are placed in the walls and his phones are tapped. This problem is detailed very well as multiple scenes are shown of Wiesler and another official trade off shifts, constantly monitoring the life of Georg. This problem tends to work hand in hand with other problems like the before mentioned problem of suppression of the freedom of speech. However, the problem is so large, and aggravating, that it deserves its own mention. The privacy was slowly restored as Wiesler began to turn and eventually privacy was restored and the fall of the GDR allowed Wiesler to live a real life again.

One issue that can be overlooked when dealing with this sort of film is the use of blackmail by the government officials. In The Secret Lives of Others this problem was shown multiple times, starting at the very beginning of the film. When Albert is being interrogated for days on end they threaten to go after his family if he does not speak. Later in the film, Georg’s neighbor is threatened into secrecy because she saw the officials bugging Georgs apartment. When faced with such a punishment it is impossible for a person to risk the lives of their own flesh and blood. That is why blackmail worked so well, in this film and in real life.

As seen before, the country before the GDR fell was in a miserable shape. People were not allowed to speak out of turn. They could not criticize their government. They couldn’t even write the truth about the government’s dealings. A line from another film, V for Vendetta, comes to mind every time I view these sort of films. It goes as such: ‘The people should not fear their government. The government should fear its people.’


The Lives of Others. Film. . Class link. . Class Link. . Class Link. . Sony Pictures Entertainment website.

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