Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 2: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others was a cause célèbre in Geek circles. Well, rather it being awarded the Oscar over Pan’s Labyrinth was. There was a huge amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the basement dwellers that populate boards such as AICN. However, in this case, as is so often true of them, they were talking (moaning) absolute nonsense. They were, being nice, ill-informed as very few people had actually seen this film before the Oscar. If they had, then they would know that this is the better film. In fact, it is Mrs. Jarv’s pick for Number 1.

Occasionally, and I am loathe to say this, but the Academy do award the right film. I’m not trying to defend the idiocy of awarding Titanic or Crash best film, but when it comes to the foreign language gong, most of the time the best foreign language film of the year wins it. In the 21st century alone, the prize has gone to several worthy films (with a few howling omissions- City of God being the prime example) but none more worthy than this one.

Germany has had an interesting 21st Century so far. I know the concept of collective guilt has, as time has passed, gradually ceased to be so dominant, but there seems to be a whole generation of film-makers intent on mining Germany’s less than noble history for dramatic effect. 3 of my favourite films of the 21st Century are German and all 3 of them deal with parts of history that most other nations would shy away from. This is arguably the premier film of the three, and one of the premier films of the decade.

The Lives of Others is amongst other things, about the act of observation. The protagonist is a middle ranking Stasi officer (Wiesler), who, in a culture rife with suspicion, believes that an ardent pro-Communist playwright (Dreyman) must have something to hide. He sets up a surveillance on the playwright and in the course of observing him finds that his own personality changes, because his own miserably empty life is put into context. The end, when it comes is devastating, but the aftermath is uplifting, touching, and a hymn to humanity. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, a wonderful film.

It is vital to note that both Dreyman and Wiesler himself are true believers in Socialism- neither is corrupt, and neither is a traitor. Weisler believes himself to be “the shield” protecting Socialist Germany from decadent capitalism and as such is easy to manipulate. Dreyman on the other hand believes wholly in Socialism, he repeatedly rejects attempts to sway him into a critical position, and when he does make the leap it is as a direct consequence of the suicide of one of his closest friends. Both these men change due to events in the film- Dreyman because of outside events, and Wiesler because of his burgeoning empathy and sympathy for Dreyman.

Wiesler is, and I’m not understating this, a hugely complex character. He volunteers for the surveillance because he believes that Dreyman must have something to hide. He is not a careerist, more a soldier following orders. His life outside of the Stasi is empty. He has no friends, and no human contact aside from the occasional visit from a prostitute. He is not the villain of the film. Dreyman, on the other hand, is a flamboyant idealist, he’s caught in a crisis of indecision between loyalty to his friends and his own belief in Socialism. He’s kind, and weak, but he is not the villain either. Rather the villains of this film are the high-ranking Stasi officers, personified by the unscrupulous Grubitz, and the odious Minister Hempf. These are outright moustache twirling villains, Hempf’s gloating to Dreyman being particularly obnoxious, and it’s sorry to say that both emerge unscathed. No such kindness is given to Dreyman and Wiesler, although arguably the coda serves as a reward to both characters.

The performances in this film are all superb- particularly Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria (the victim of the piece) and (above all else) Ulrich Muhe as Weisler. His is a multi-layered performance that is brutal and unsparing. Jealousy flirts with pity and dedication across his face, and although he does finish the film a broken man, the final shot of him with a look of happiness and satisfaction elevates the film above the bleak and miserable.

When I studied English at University (bear with me), we spent a significant amount of time studying the various themes of tragedy. One of the theories (a plague on the 90’s) that we were inflicted with was that of the tragic fall. For an effective tragedy, so the argument goes, there must be a central character that suffers a severe fall, leading to a cathartic release and the possibility of redemption. This is, of course, hogwash. The great tragedies of history usually end with a bloodbath, and the fallen character can usually be found amongst the dead. This film is, I believe, the exception that proves the rule. Wiesler’s fall is tragic, and the possibility of redemption is realised in his attempts to save Dreyman, but the moment of catharsis comes in the coda- it fits the theory, even if I struggle to thing of another Tragedy that would do.

The Lives of Others is a fabulous film. It’s depressing and uplifting simultaneously, hangs complex themes effortlessly on a simple story and is wonderfully acted and directed. It’s a brutal and unflinching film, and is a film that is more than the some of its parts.

Moving without being manipulative, devastating without being depressing- The Lives of Others is my pick for 2nd best film of the decade, and a proud addition to any list.


Next up is number 1. I won’t name it here, but anyone that knows me or has read these lists should be able to guess what it is. And, no, it isn’t Irreversible.

Until tomorrow.


The Top 10, along with other lists, can be found here.

They are:

10: Tsotsi,


8: Daisy

7: The Descent

6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

5: This is England.

4: Requiem for a Dream

3: Battle Royale

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

29 responses to “Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 2: The Lives of Others”

  1. Jarv says :

    Damn and blast.

    Has that poster disappeared?

    *After edit* Fucking hell. That’s so annoying.

  2. Droid says :

    It’s Love Actually at #1. I’m pretty confident on this one.

  3. Jarv says :


    It’s clearly AvP: Rectum.

  4. Jarv says :

    Eh? What misuse- it is the exception to the rule that that theory is utter shit that proves the rule that that theory is utter shit.

    If you follow me…..

    • Jarv says :


      That was my third fucking attempt at that paragraph as well. What I meant is that the theory states that all tragedies should have a fall with a cathartic moment followed by redemption. This theory is bollocks. My Theory is that this theory is bollocks.

      The Lives of Others, however, DOES have a tragic fall followed by catharsis and redemption. The fact that it does so, however, doesn’t disprove my hypothesis on the validity of the earlier dogma.

      I’m tempted to go back and re-edit it and swop in fatal flaw dogma instead.

      A bad case of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing.

    • Jarv says :

      I know where it’s from.

      My point still stands- just because Lives of Others does meet the criteria, doesn’t mean that the theory isn’t crap.

      It’s not like I’m saying “No dogs bite” then when someone does get bitten say “well, that’s the exception that proves the rule”.

      Bollocks, you’re tempting me to go back to rewrite it- a la lucas.

    • Jarv says :

      This is why I struggled with it-

      Suppose so, I was thinking more along the lines that this is the nuetral group as it’s the one that does meet the criteria, whereas nothing else does- the experiment is set to fail, with this as the control.

      You are sorely tempting me to rewrite it.

    • Jarv says :

      Everyone’s got one of these trigger phrases. Most of them are either Grammar related or some stupidity about homespun sayings.

  5. Droid says :

    How can an exception prove a rule?

    • Jarv says :

      Basically, in an experiment you start with a hypothesis then set up the experiment to prove the hypothesis.

      You also, to make the experiment valid, set up a “control”. Say, for example (gleaned off mythbusters), the experiment is to do with the corrosive properties of Coke, then you set up the experiment with a penny dipped in all the things you think make Coke corrosive, and you have 1 penny dipped in saline (or something else neutral.)

      If the hypothesis works, then something should happen in your active ones, but if nothing happens in the control one, then it is successful as the result could only have occurred due to the conditions you set up- hence “the exception proves the rule”.

      Sorry about that. Frank may correct me, as I’m not great on Science, but I think that’s how it works.

  6. Jarv says :

    Fuck’s sake.

    Just go and watch Mythbusters. It’s fucking entertaining and they explain this shit properly.

  7. Droid says :

    Call me stupid, but how does a penny dipped in a non-corrosive liquid prove the rule? Why is that an exception?

    • Droid says :

      Okay, ignore this. I think I’m just having an issue with the word ‘exception’. I don’t think it’s the correct use of the word. The ‘control’ or whatever is not an exception. It’s actually the part of the rule.

      • Jarv says :

        It isn’t.

        Precisely. This is probably what gets to Frank.

        Useless monkey cunt quibbling over nothing.

      • Jarv says :


        Anyhow, I’ve remembered what mine is- misuse of the word “ironic”.

        Feel free to call me a useless cunt whenever you feel like it.

      • Jarv says :

        Or use of the word proactive/ action as a verb.

        Management speak in general, really.

        Don’t be offended by that Frank, it wasn’t meant to be rude.

      • Jarv says :

        Pro-active really gets me because it’s so meaningless- people used to just do things, but that wasn’t farty enough so they started having to “actively” do things, but that still wasn’t wanky enough so they began “pro-actively” doing things- and all it basically is is fucking doing the things they were meant to be doing to begin with.

        Not to mention bashing hitherto unmolested nouns into totally inappropriate verbs.

        Action being the most famous example, but see also “showcase”.

        Every time someone does it I can see Orwell’s coffin burrowing towards the Earth’s core.

        Moving Forwards is particularly bad, ditto “Think outside the box”- FUCKING MEANINGLESS DRIVEL.

      • M. Blitz says :

        Proactive is awful because of how fucking pointless it is. We’ve got active, and we’ve got reactive, so why exactly do we need the word proactive?? Ridiculous.

        Personally, I throw my hate into the ring for the word trending. Also, the phrase It is what it is (ok, and what might that be?), and its correlate, It’s whatever. IT is NOT ‘whatever’. It is ‘what it is’……maybe, sometimes, whatever ‘it’ is. Regardless, that’s saying absolutely nothing–Nothing!–other than “I believe all subjects are self-identical.” Not to mention that the phrase is borderline mystical in its implied fatalism, all of which offends my fondness for philosophical dicking around. And it’s usually said in this smug, ‘well, that’s settled’ sort of way, as if some profound statement were just made. Bah.

    • Jarv says :

      So am I.

      Going for a fag.

      I shall be pleasant rather than sarcastic because I am never rude.

  8. Jarv says :

    Well, the hypothesis is that there is something in coke that is corrosive- and it has to come from the soft drink.

    The control group, has to have the only difference being a LACK of whatever the fuck is in the other ones. A control group should fail to react, as the reason for the control is to eliminate other options. Therefore, for a fully successful experiment, you have to have the active groups reacting in the way that you expect and the control group failing to react. If they both react then the experiment fails.

    It’s called “the exception” because it’s actually a misnomer- what it means is that the group is “the exception” because it hasn’t had anything actively done to it.

    It’s a silly saying, really, because the control group hasn’t had anything done to it- and therefore isn’t really a part of the test. It certainly isn’t an exception to the hypothesis.

    We’re heading fast towards semantic hell here.

  9. Jarv says :

    How did a fucking review of one of my favourite films (heart of granite indeed, bastards) ever turn into this row about words?

    • M. Blitz says :

      It’s a very nice review, I just haven’t seen the movie (it’s going on the list of movies I probably should see). And I couldn’t resist the opportunity to vent some shared pet peeves. Ah, the joys of communal bitching…

      I do want to commend you for your attempt to get things back on track, though. Very proactive of you. 😉

  10. Lordbronco says :

    Avatar is your number one pick, right. The Hollywood foreign ores says it’s the best…

    • Jarv says :


      It should be obvious, really.

      Avatar nearly made the US list, but Mrs. Jarv has a lot of reasonable points as to why it shouldn’t be called good- ever.

      Did you know that all the “I see you” shite is a corruption of a zulu greeting?

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Oh, Jesus… An argument about English and the correct use of. I am so far out of my depth I really should go back to posting at Gingertown.

    Just so you know, I don’t even bother with proper grammar; posh people invented it and I’m here to mangle it. The end.

    Anyway, the review was excellent. I did see a trailer for Lives and so help me, thought it looked a bit dreary… But, it’s added to the ‘See’ list now. Okay?

    “Adrenalin” does my head in. Don’t they know there’s an ‘e’ at the end of it?

  12. herr milflover says :

    This whole discussion makes my head hurt worse than a course about irony that has Alanis Morissette for a teacher.

    But it’s still funny.

    And halfway between pregnant and not pregnant is coat hanger abortissum.

  13. jarv says :

    Don’t get me started on that fucking song.

    No, moose molesting twat- there’s nothing ironic about it.

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