"The Stasi—East Germany’s omnipotent and greatly feared secret police—employed some 100,000 people, in addition to the 200,000 informers who could be counted on to spy on their neighbors, their friends and their own families. The waking nightmare of this "socialist paradise," a country with the second highest suicide rate in the world, is unforgettably captured in The Lives of Others.
Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck sets his tale of betrayal, corruption and moral awakening in East Berlin in 1984, five years before the fall of the wall. The system may be rotting from within, but Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), one of the Stasi’s most skilled officers, is still a true believer, rooting out the enemies of East German socialism with a ruthless precision born of genuine ideological commitment.
The humourless, ascetic Wiesler is assigned to spy on the celebrated playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his lover and star actress, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Bugging the couple’s apartment, he sits monklike in a secret attic, earphones on his head, listening for hours to their lovers’ quarrels, their discussions of art and the music they play. What Wiesler discovers is that his assignment is about more than state security: Hempf, a high government minister (Thomas Thieme), lusts after Christa-Maria and wants to see his rival taken off the field. It’s made clear to Wiesler that finding dirt on Dreyman could do wonders for the Stasi officer’s career. Suddenly Wiesler, against all his training and convictions, begins to feel a strange sympathy for the man and woman whose lives he’s secretly entered.
[…] It’s hard to believe this is von Donnersmarck’s first feature. His storytelling gifts have the novelistic richness of a seasoned master. The accelerating plot twists are more than just clever surprises; they reverberate with deep and painful ironies, creating both suspense and an emotional impact all the more powerful because it creeps up so quietly. He creates edge-of-your-seat tension without a single gunshot, car chase or fight scene. Even more remarkable is his grasp of character […] The Lives of Others shows, with devastating clarity and intelligence, how the virus of corruption spreads from a political system into the hearts and souls of its citizens, infecting everything it touches." David Ansen, Newsweek
"A thoroughly compelling political thriller, at once intellectually challenging and profoundly emotional." Claudia Puig, USA Today
"The Lives of Others is a supremely intelligent, unfailingly honest look at a shadowy period in recent German history." AO Scott, New York Times