If you saw the title of this post, you might be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Well, I've decided to start a new, occasional segment for "La Vida," appropriately titled "El Cine Según a Kimmie." ("The Cinema According to Kimmie") I love writing reviews, whether they be for homeschool curriculum, hair products, music books, food, or movies. Now, I'm not a movie junkie, but I do enjoy the occasional film every now and then. I do tend to be slightly nit picky about what I watch, but I will note those movies which have left an impression on me. This first installment is a foreign film, originally released in Germany as Das Leben der Anderen, and shown in 2007 in the United States as The Lives of Others. Enjoy! (Side note: There is one spoiler in this review/final thoughts type thing, but only because it was needed to illustrate a point :-D)
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Cast: Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria Sieland; Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler; Sebastian Koch as Georg Dreyman; Ulrich Tukur as Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz; Thomas Thieme as Minister Bruno Hempf; Hans-Uwe Bauer as Paul Hauser; Volkmar Kleinert as Albert Jerska; Matthias Brenner as Karl Wallner; Herbert Knaup as Gregor Hessenstein
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Release Date: 23 March 2006 (Germany); 9 February 2007 (United States)
(All of the aforementioned information was taken from IMDb.com.)
Plot Summary: East Berlin. 1984. The Stasi ("state security"/secret police) are keeping what appears to be perfect order in the state. Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) has an illustrious career in the government as one of the top interrogators. Because of his sharp instincts and attention to detail, he's selected to begin surveillance on one of the G.D.R.'s (German Democratic Republic's) beloved writers - Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), and his drama-loving girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a prominent actress. But it is far from a routine wire tapping. Spying on Dreyman proves to be a life changing event for everybody involved - and most especially for the Watcher himself.
My Thoughts: I was introduced to this film indirectly by my Core professors. It was on a list of suggested films to watch over the break. At first I was reluctant to view it; it seemed dull, and I was even more put off by the fact that it was in German (just a personal quibble; I don't particularly like the way German lands on my ears).
I couldn't have been more wrong. This is definitely one of the best movies I've ever seen. It grappled with some heavy ideas - the question of whether people are inherently good or bad, for instance. At the start of the movie, Wiesler is the perfect East German - he holds a position in the government, meticulously notes and reports any and all suspicious activities and speech, lectures at the university, and regularly rubs elbows with top officials. A good man, by government standards. But he soon realizes that there is more to life. He starts to come to this turning point when he happens to hear Georg play a piece on the piano entitled "Sonata for a Good Man" ("Sonate vom Guten Menschen"), a birthday gift to him from his dear friend Albert Jerska. After playing, Georg turned to Christa and uttered somberly:
"Lenin said that if he continued to listen to Beethoven's 'Apassionata,' he would not be able to finish the revolution. Can any man who has heard this [sonata] - I mean truly heard it - really be a bad person?" Wiesler seems to take this to heart. Little by little, he morphs from a heartless mechanical interrogator into a real man. The transformation was incredible to witness (I won't spoil any more of the movie by giving any examples, though :-D)
|[Image Copyright 2006 Sony Pictures, Inc.]|
Another aspect of this movie that I enjoyed was in how it showed the imperfections of humanity. When the Stasi and government were first introduced in the beginning for instance, they seemed to run perfectly and without flaws, no matter what happened. The further the story went, though, the more flawed and weakened the Stasi appeared, and the more power Wiesler seemed to wield over it. I thought it was intriguing how he - one insignificant man, by G.D.R. standards - could impact the lives of so many others and affect the innermost workings of the government.
Just a note about the nudity in Das Leben; it is sexually graphic, and I was shocked (to put it mildly) to see those scenes the first time I watched it (I skipped over them the second go). But, in some odd way, the stark bareness of some of the characters is utilised to help the audience grasp the full nature of the message of this movie. That being said, you know yourself best. If you tend to be a bit prudish when it comes to sexual scenes (like I tend to be), just be prepared.
Overall, I'd highly recommend this movie to college-age audiences and older. The discussions and themes that can be drawn from it seem innumerable; it'd be a great film to watch with a group of friends and discuss after the viewing.
Side note: During my personal viewings of this film, I had a moment of realisation. At the beginning of last semester, my Core professors passed out a pre-course exam, and one of the questions was "What are the humanities?" My answer was the generic answer that dictionary.com might have provided. Watching this movie, however, made me realise that the humanities are the study of the lives of others - those who do and do not share our cultural and racial similarities, religion or life philosophy, music, poetry, prose, etc. It felt like a light bulb had finally turned on in my brain. At last, I saw how and why my Core professors connected everything the way that they did, why we studied the topics we did, and why they were important. Hopefully, I'll continue to keep this in mind when we start the second semester in 8 days :-D
|[Image Copyright 2006 Sony Pictures, Inc.]|
What are some thought-provoking movies that you enjoy watching?