Revisit the Cult Film, “The Lives of Others”


Let us speak to a time when citizens were not allowed

The brilliant actor  Ulrich Muhe plays the man who listens

The brilliant actor Ulrich Muhe plays the man who listens

“The Lives of Others,” – This is an appropriate time to revisit the cult film, the 2007 Academy Awards winner for best foreign film. “The Lives of Others,” begins in 1984 and brings us up to date as a very poignant real-live experience. It is a how-to manual on spying; only current technology has changed, but only just.

The New York Times says “Supremely intelligent.”

The script tells of life in totalitarian East Germany in a community of artists – books, theater, music. This country was inappropriately named the German Democratic Republic [GDR founded in 1949, and liberated with the fall of the wall in 1989, then reunified with the West in 1990]. The story portrays the height of this restrictive government, in 1984, when everyone spied on everyone.

The characters may be constructed, but what goes on is absolutely the truth. No one was free from observation. In charge of actual spying was the East German Stasi, secret police. Through terror and extortion, average citizens spied on their employees, neighbors, friends and families, and were arrested by the Stasi, taken away, many to virtually disappear. State murder was common, and suicide was not acknowledged.

All the Arts were censored, especially writers – told what not to write. You were not allowed.

For all this, “Lives of Others” is not grim or depressing… but edgy like a bread knife. This was definitely not a country where you would choose to live. Citizens of the GDR were stuck, until uprisings fomented throughout all the Eastern European countries, where people were starving for freedom.

You know the story, but we all need reminders.

What did the title, “The Lives of Others” mean – members of the Stasi listened in on conversations – the agent in the attic with earphones. They listened to discussions, arguments, couple-trouble and love-making.

sebastian koch

Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck play the lovers, the playwright Gregor Dreyman and the actress, Chista-Maria. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was writer/director (see “The Tourist” and current “Much Ado About Nothing). What is so memorable about Ulrich Muhe’s performance of the agent/spy is how he shows us his empty life, sterile, gray, friendless, contrasted to the artists’ vibrancy and courage.

The Stasi listen to phone conversations, intensely bug the lover’s apartment, follow everyone, try to stop publication of articles, use sexual intimidation – so what else is new – but Ulrich Muhe develops his own version of courage. What takes place is mesmerizing and memorable.

Domestic spying by the GDR Stasi – “The Lives of Others” affords only a glimpse into a situation that was rampant throughout East Germany during the Cold War – domestic spying at such an enormous level, remained unequaled by other countries of Eastern Europe.

In the movie, Sebastian Koch realizes his government set up an extensive spy apparatus inside his own home. Now after the fall of the GDR, intelligence files have been opened up to the its incredulous citizens. Koch is able to research his life from the point of view of the government. From that data, he is able to write a book, and this time, get it published.

The film shows the interior corridors replete with folding door-sized containers of mega-data file folders, ten feet high, on and on, more and more (before computerization). When we see millions of files, viewers realize the magnitude of this intrusion.

See the massive data collection as hard copies, remember what that looks like. You will not see it again. Put your data into that collection. They could recreate a human being in that manner, the way he walks, maybe she breaths heavily, maybe speaks with a nervous mannerism that would give away their intention – just what the government wants to see and hear…or was he was just tired, after a particularly hard day.

The government is unforgiving. Whose government was that. Was it the GDR…or is it the USA – yes and yes.

Domestic spying, today – From an article by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, rather than reprint the entire article, use this link:  In it, Judge Napolitano says that the US government at first, claimed the NSA gathered only telephone numbers and billing data, but “Now we know that the NSA has captured and stored the content of trillions of telephone conversations, texts and emails, and can access that content at the press of a few computer keys.”

Author’s comment: As I said, earlier in this article, “What goes on (in this movie) is absolutely the truth.” I speak from good intelligence. Blue Group

Similar experiences in Eastern Europe happen in the book, “Blue Group” ISBN 1-592286-877-x, as the biography and true life story of Frederic DeLis, a man who was an agent, officer and operator in the NSA covering 46 years of intelligence experiences and “technology.”  I know because I wrote the book.


Article by Charlotte Wilson, Partner with Zero-Amp Technology and Publisher of   Contact us with comments or questions.