History, Art and Shame in von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others

Hans Löfgren


Commentary on the successful directing and scriptwriting debut of Florian von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others, tends to divide into those faulting the film for its lack of historical accuracy and those praising its artistry and conciliatory symbolic function after the reunification of the GDR and BRD. This essay argues that even when we grant the film’s artistic premise that music can convert the socialist revolutionary into a peaceful liberal, suspending the demand for realism, the politics intrinsic to the film still leads to a problematic conclusion. The stern Stasi officer in charge of the surveillance of a playwright and his actress partner comes to play the part of a selfless savior, while the victimized actress becomes a betrayer. Her shame however, is not shared by the playwright, Dreyman, and the Stasi officer, Wiesler, who never meet eye to eye but instead become linked in a mutual gratitude centering on the book dedicated to Wiesler, written years later when Dreyman learns of the other’s having  subversively  protected him from imprisonment. Despite superb acting and directing, dependence on such tenuous character development makes the harmonious conclusion of the film ring hollow and implies the need for more serious challenges to German reunification.


Film; Germany; reunification; symbolic reconciliation; art; humanism; surveillance

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Moderna språk - Institutionen för moderna språk - Box 636 - SE-751 26 UPPSALA
ISSN: 2000-3560