Self-Study Questions for “The Lives of Others” (Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

1.Before you watch “The Lives of Others”, collect some background information about the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Stasi (the East German secret police) before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. While watching the film, reflect on how this information might help you understand themes of the film.

2.While watching the film take notes on how the repressive state controls its citizens and their minds. What surveillance methods are used?

3.The film begins in 1984. In what ways could this date be significant?

4.Make a comparative examination of where Wiesler and Dreyman live and then discuss what such an examination of settings might reveal about these two protagonists and the film themes.

5.Comment on the significance of Wiesler’s gestures and marble-like physical features.

6.What do you think about the color palette of the film? Why do you think the filmmaker might have decided to employ such a color palette?

7.Watch the sequence where Dreyman plays “Sonata for a Good Man”. What is the significance of this music in the film? Why does Dreyman refer to Lenin and Lenin’s mentioning of Beethoven’s “Appasionata” while playing the piece? How do these references help us understand the film?

8.What is the importance of the Brecht poetry book in the film?

9.The film contains two segments from Dreyman’s play “Faces of Love”; one at the beginning and one towards the end. In what way(s) could these segments help us understand the film?

10.In relation to the major characters in the film, explain and discuss what the film might be telling us about the following: a) art and the state b) art and morality.

11.What is the significance of the character called Albert Jerska in the film?

12.Comment on the significance of the female protagonist’s name “Christia-Maria Sieland”.

13.With who do you identify in the film? Why? In what ways do you think the filmmaker is influential in your choice?

14.What do you think about the film’s representation of female and male characters? Suggested reading: “A Few Good Men: Gender, Ideology, and Narrative Politics in The Lives of Others and Good Bye, Lenin! ” published in Women in German Yearbook 25, 2009.

15.Comment on Wiesler’s last words in the final scene of the film: “It’s for me”.

Ali Nihat Eken, November 23, 2012

Photos: Hagen Keller. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics