The movie “the lives of others” is a German film that takes place in East Berlin, November 1984. Five years before its downfall, the former East-German government ensured its claim to power with a ruthless system of control and surveillance. Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler hopes to boost his career when given the job of collecting evidence against the playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend, the celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland. After all, the “operation” is backed by the highest political circles.
What he didn’t anticipate, however, was that submerging oneself into the world of the target also changes the surveillance agent. The immersion in the lives of others–in love, literature, free thinking and speech–makes Wiesler acutely aware of the meagerness of his own existence and opens to him a completely new way of life which he has ever more trouble resisting. Through out the movie there was a focus on changing over time. Minister Hempf is very adamant and convinced that people do not change their morals, which is absolutely true with almost every character in the film.
The only exception to this is Mr. Wiesler. At the begging of the movie Mr. Wiesler is very closed off to emotions. His interrogations during WWII and his teaching of interrogation in class post war are very emotionless. In fact he makes a note of a student who opposes his interrogation methods. The evolution of his morals in the begging of the movie to those at the end is shown in his surveillance reports. When he first begins to listen to conversations in the apartment he is very diligent and accurate in reporting what is going on.
His transition is at first subtle such as not wanting to switch shifts with the second agent, or leaving out the details about the minister or her unfaithfulness. As the plot progresses so does his exclusion of details in the reports. When they test to see if the apartment is bugged he does not call the border patrol. It’s almost as if he was not ready to end the “relationship” he had with the couple. Towards the end of the film, he was not only excluding information from the reports but covering activities up with lies. He reports that they are collaborating to write a play instead of what they were actually doing.
It’s not until his final interrogation of Christa-Maria Sieland that he completes his change. She gave them enough direction to be able to search the area in the apartment and with time find the typewriter, but he wanted to know the exact location. He knew that for what he wanted to do he would not have time to search. His attachment to the couple opened his mind to a greater way of thinking, and a greater purpose in life. It was not the couple he fell in love with, it was the idea of free-thinking that the couple shared. A second ethical question the film portrays is whether a good man can do wrong and still be good.
There are many examples of this throughout the film. Christa-Maria is a prime example of this. She sleeps with the minister in order to keep her and Dreyman out of trouble. Her unfaithfulness is with good intentions and yet is still a terrible act. I think that Dreyman saw and understood this, and that is why he did not leave her when he found out. Grubitz was portrayed as a terrible man, but did not tell anyone or arrest Wiesler when he figured out that Wiesler took the typewriter. Multiple people in this film were constantly in conflict with themselves. Each covering up the wrongs of the others.