East Germany, 1984.  The Berlin Wall has been up since 1961; the Secret Police (Stasi) monitor most everyone, especially those with connections to the West.  There motto: "To know Everything."  One of the Stasi's main targets is a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress lover (Martina Gedeck).  The official  assigned to bug their apartment, Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Muhe), takes his job very seriously, so much so that he becomes engrossed in the couple's lives to the point of undermining the efforts of his superiors to have them arrested.  Wiesler's transformation from loyal party man to silent sympathizer is at the core of this story.

"The Lives of Others" has been marketed as a political thriller, and it does have elements of this, especially when Wiesler's thoroughly corrupt directors begin to suspect him of compromising their wishes.  But what director von Donnersmarck has so subtly constructed is the transformation of one man from a political puppet with any number of personal flaws to an ordinary man who begins to examine and question not only the venality of his bosses and the East German regime, but especially his own failures. 

The story's last scenes, which take place after the Wall has come down, is one of the most effective and moving endings you're likely to see.  This is a subtle and heartfelt masterpiece.

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