The Lives of Others: Film Analysis by Dr. Deborah

Life stories are powerful stimuli to your imagination and to understanding who you are and what you want psychologically and spiritually for yourself. They speak to the human condition, our passions, challenges, triumphs and failures, and our reason to be.

No matter the story being shared, there is always something in it with which you can relate, if you dare to open yourself up to and explore its meanings. Indeed, you do not know yourself outside of the story that you create about your life. If you think about it, each time you share something personal about your life, you are storying the experience with a context that suggests who you are, what you believe and value, and what you dream most for yourself.

Human beings have always used stories to share experience, to teach, and to humanize people. You are in the midst of creating a story about your life, right at this moment. The makings of your everyday life are the seeds for this powerful story that you are shaping about yourself, right now.

Today, I’m sharing a powerful story with you about the tragic outcome of failing to appreciate the humanness of others. The 2006 film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is about you; it’s about all of us. The film won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006. Still today, I am moved deeply by the powerful portrayal of human being pitted against human being solely because they have no understanding of each others’ lives.

Synopsis of The Lives of Others Film : The Lives of Others monitors the cultural scene of East Berlin in 1984, during the German Democratic Republic. Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler is assigned by his superior, Anton Grubitz, to spy on successful playwright Georg Dreyman and the actress, who is also Dreyman’s lover, Christa-Marta Sieland. Wiesler and the Stasi team bug the apartment and set up surveillance equipment in a nearby attic, and begin reporting on Dreyman’s activities. Thus far, Dreyman has escaped all but cursory attention from the authorities due to his staunchly professed pro-Communist views and his internationally recognized talent.

Captain Wiesler finds himself increasingly absorbed by Dreyman and Sieland’s lives. He listens~~ to their dreams, their laughter, their fears, their passion and their lovemaking. There, he finds himself. Wiesler not only gets to know them, but he sees that he is them. Although this gorgeous film ends tragically, the lives of Wiesler, Dreyman and Sieland merge into a poetry about the human condition.

At first thought, you may think that the Lives of Others is about the cultural ideas of pro-communist East Berlin in 1984. But, this film is less a picture of the pros and cons of communism and more a story about humankinds struggle to develop psychologically and spiritually. The film’s cultural features are a powerful backdrop to showcase the need for humankind to understand, respect, and value each other.

The film’s deeper message is that man without feeling will tend to deny, deprive, ignore, persecute, and eliminate whomever and whatever is unlike him. Hence, The Lives of Others is more about the persecution of human beings throughout time and a powerful message to us to get to know what we do not understand. The subtle shift of awareness, understanding, and positive feeling of Stasi police agent Captain Wiesler toward the playwright Dreyman and his actress-love Christa-Marta Sieland shows us that empathy, compassion and kindness comes from seeing the ways in which we are all alike, rather than the ways that we are different.

Carl Jung’s theory of analytical psychology speaks to the psychological limitation of Wiesler, at the movie’s start. The idea that most speaks to Wiesler’s psychology is Jung’s idea of the masculine and feminine prototypes of the human being. Jung theorized that in every man is a woman, and in every woman, there is a man. He saw human beings as striving to balance these energies within themselves, as they struggle with their lives. We must  integrate these seemingly opposite energies into our personalities and awareness, if we are to become whole beings who can relate to the plight of others.

Developmentally, men and women start out with energies that solely express their gender. It is their developmental task to use life experiences to integrate the energies of the other into themselves. For example, the masculine energy is the hunter and gatherer. Man hunts, gathers, acquires, usurps, and destroys if threatened. Woman, in contrast, is the nurturer, the protector, the healer; she’s more emotional, artistic and understanding; she responds with heart rather than solely from rules and regulations. Psychological and spiritual development necessitates that men and women develop and integrate the awareness of the other into themselves, if they are to become balanced human beings. Every psychological theorist contends that balance is a requirement for healthy mental and physical functioning.

Thus, Wiesler represents man without a feminine consciousness; man without a heart. After all, he is a Stasi police agent monitoring for actions against a Police State. But, Wiesler is really there to monitor against a feminine energy that entertains the heart, as well as the mind, when considering the meaning of experience. The masculine energy of the Police State can only survive if there is no heart to weaken its rules and regulations.

The playwright Dreyman and Sieland are artists; they epitomize feminine energy. Wiesler did not know what a blessing was bestowed upon him, when he was put in charge of monitoring their activities. Their humanness, their creativity and passion, and their love for each other stimulated Wiesler’s imagination and his feminine, more feeling side.

By the movie’s end, Wiesler becomes a whole, integrated being of feeling and reason. He becomes a man who feels, simply because he was privy to the feeling lives of others.

The Moral of This Story

Nurture feeling. Feeling is the basis to understanding, empathy, compassion, kindness and giving. Feeling aligns us with, rather than against, each other.

This is the first of many film analyses that I will post on Psychology in Everyday Life. You most likely see my heart here, today. I cannot hide who I am from you. I appreciate the differences between many of us culturally, racially, and religiously, but value deeply the connection that we share to each other as fellow human beings.

I hope you liked my post today. As always, if you do, please let me know by selecting the LIKE button below. And, if you wish to share this post with others, you can tweet or give this article a Google +1. Thank you friends. Much love to you, Warmly, Deborah.

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10 Responses to “The Lives of Others: Film Analysis by Dr. Deborah”

  1. avatar Farrukh Javed Kazi says:

    I have not watched this great film . Deborah’s review has aroused in me an immense desire to see the movie.The morale of the story that “Feeling aligns us to be with each other”, is impressive. Let me admit candidly Deby has a lovable heart which is very much visible here.I really enjoyed the remark about the masculine energy of police state threatened by heart ,whose feeling can weaken its so-called rules & regulations. Well said ! More true for countries in south Asia.A wonderful analysis (and certainly a fascinating start) by Dr Deborah Khoshaba !

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Farrukh, I’m happy you want to see the film, now. That’s what I hoped for when I wrote this article. And, that you see my heart in what I do is the nicest complement of all. Thank you for being present to me and to the ideas of this story. I always say–you see in me, what is already alive in you, or you could not be present to it. Warm regards to you Farrukh, Deborah! Talk with you FB.

  2. avatar hanya warraich says:

    very nyc info

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      thank you Hanya. I appreciate you stopping by to read this post. Hope to see you again soon. Warmly Deborah.

  3. avatar deanna says:

    Dear Dr. D,

    I enjoyed your interpretation more so than the film itself. I lived in the Soviet Russia, and in reality, people like Wiesler were so profoundly injured as human beings that it was unlikely for such transformation to actually take place, in my opinion. I tend to maintain Kafka’s pessimistic view. Kafka’s Gregor was so thoroughly conditioned to be LIKE a vermin, that he eventually became one, and Kafka clearly sees no possibility of reversing his metamorphosis.

    What I did enjoy about the film is the exploration of the conflict between the bohemian culture and the culture of social control. This subject has always fascinated me, and it was great to see this conflict explored in this film. You expressed this juxtaposition in terms of feminine vs masculine energies. I can’t wait to see more postings of your film critiques. Thank you. With much love==your former student…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Deanna, I can appreciate what you say here. Films, often, suggest a better way of being rather than what actually takes place. This is the beauty of film in showing us a better way. But, I can imagine, when you lived the experience, it’s hard to re-experience the type of people who deprived others of their being. I like Kafka very much too. But, my heart is a Kierkegaardian that works of true love are indeed possible. Thank you for sharing your experience and valuable insights into this difficult topic. What a pleasure to get to dialogue with you here. Talk to you soon, I hope. With much love to you–your former teacher and now Deborah!

  4. avatar Nikko says:

    Hi Dr. Deborah,

    I enjoys reading your interpretation as well as the story, just watched the film and looking how this story might related to other audience and what common and different experiences of philosophical, literal interpretations we might have. Excellent illustration of Jungian perspective toward the characters. Initially, to me, as a junior year international student, I finds the movie portrait the reality instead of knowledge. In Chinese, there is this saying, “There is always a difficult chapters for every family to read” (to have a skeleton in cupboard). There comes a time in everyone’s live, we frequently wanna avoid certain reality happened to us; consequently, adoption and possession of other experiences relive the wind of doubts in our life. I also perceives that being invisible often give us to compare and contrast others lives without the burden of our embarrassment, desires and shyness. nice reading, wonderful analysis. Thx Dr. Deborah.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Nikko, I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’m so pleased that you like this film and my analysis. I really love this film. Yes, the issues highlighted in this movie are reality. Skeleton in the cupboard is very descriptive. I agree that we consider ourselves, our hurts and disappointments by comparing and contrasting ourselves to others lives. This is why I love film and literature.

      Nikko, you take good care and thank you for writing me. Warm regards Deborah.

  5. avatar Anna says:

    Hi Dr D, I Just had a question about the themes in the lives of others- I really love this film, but what would you say the main theme is?? Do you think it could be the idea of change??
    Thank you for writing such a lovely analysis, Anna

  6. avatar Jessica says:

    “For example, the masculine energy is the hunter and gatherer. Man hunts, gathers, acquires, usurps, and destroys if threatened. Woman, in contrast, is the nurturer, the protector, the healer; she’s more emotional, artistic and understanding; she responds with heart rather than solely from rules and regulations.”

    Please be conscious of the dichotomies that you create involving gender 🙂 this statement is not biologically true at all, rather grounded in societal expectations and gender norms.


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