Sebastian Koch as the writer Georg Dreyman in “The Lives of Others”: Art, beauty, and love have the power to change a life
The movie “The Lives of Others” is set in East Germany in the mid-1980s, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A Stasi captain who has essentially lost his humanity rediscovers it as he spies on a writer and his actress girlfriend. The captain experiences people for whom art is something natural –- a central, beautiful and normal part of their lives -- and it changes him. This is a movie worth seeing (I went at the insistence of my mother). A musical score by the Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared (he also wrote the scores for The English Patient and Cold Mountain), “Sonata for a Good Man,” sets the mood.
In the film, each character asks questions that we confront every day: how do we deal with power and ideology? Do we follow our principles or our feelings? More than anything else, “The Lives of Others” is a human drama about the ability of human beings to do the right thing, no matter how far they have gone down the wrong path.
-- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Writer & Director of The Lives of Others, Academy Award winner best Foreign Language picture)
From an interview with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (available here)
Were there actual Stasi officers who worked against the system or who showed any kind of humanity?
... There were also funnier stories. In an article about my film published in 2006, "Der Spiegel" recounts of one of the Stasi officers who monitored Wolf Biermann (the greatest East German poet). The officer was so impressed with Biermann's poems (which he was forced to listen to via his headphones every day) that he actually started writing poems himself, and founded a Stasi Poetry Group. Regularly, these Stasi employees met to read each other their ambitious new poems –awful stuff, I can tell you, but touching nonetheless. Angry Stasi victims often referred to the Stasi employees who persecuted them as "Stasi pigs" ("Stasi-Schweine"). With his usual humanistic sense of humor, Biermann refers to this strange admirer as "mein Stasi-Schweinchen", "my Stasi piglet".
Is it true that Ulrich Mühe, the actor who plays the Stasi captain, was under surveillance through the Stasi?
Most people working in the Arts and the Media were under surveillance, and so was Ulrich, who was a big star of East German theatre. He found out from his files that 4 members of his theater group from the Deutsches Theater in Berlin were actually spying on him. The administration of the archives was able to give him the real names (behind the code names) of only two of them. It was their assessment of his politically rebellious behavior that made the Stasi place Ulrich Mühe on a list of artists to be interned in an isolated camp. He also found out that his wife of 6 years, herself a famous actress of the East, was registered as an informer with the Stasi throughout all the years of their marriage unbeknownst to him. When people ask him how he prepared for the role, Ulrich Mühe answers: "I remembered".