The Lives of Others: A Screenplay

The Lives of Others: A Screenplay


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Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred.

In 1984 East Berlin, the Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler is assigned to spy on the playwright Georg Dreyman. Wiesler and his team bug the apartment, set up surveillance equipment in an attic and begin reporting on the activities of Dreyman, who had previously escaped state scrutiny due to his pro-Communist views and international recognition.

One day, however, Wiesler learns the real reason behind the surveillance: the Minister of Culture covets Dreyman's girlfriend, and is trying to eliminate his rival. Though Wiesler continues his surveillance, he struggles to reconcile his sense of professional duty with his personal integrity, as he finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by the couple’s lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781782270744
Publisher: Steerforth Press
Publication date: 10/28/2014
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,102,683
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is the award-winning director of The Lives of Others and The Tourist. Born in 1973, he grew up in New York City, Brussels, Frankfurt and West Berlin, he studied Russian literature in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) before obtaining an MA in Politics, Philosophy and economics from Oxford and a diploma in film direction from the University of Film and Television in Munich. The Lives of Others won the European Film Award for Best Film and Best Screenplay, the LA Film Critics' Association award, and the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Read an Excerpt

The Lives of Others

By Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck

Steerforth Press

Copyright © 2007 Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78227-074-4


Stasi detention center

Hohenschönhausen — morning

A PRISONER in civilian clothes is led down an apparently endless prison corridor with a linoleum floor, past dozens of cells.

Title on screen: 'November 1984, Berlin-Hohen schön hausen, Detention Center of the Ministry for State Security' Suddenly red warning lamps come on all along the corridor.

GUARD Stand still. Eyes to the floor.

At the end of the corridor another prisoner in a prison uniform is led past along a corridor that crosses the first. When he has passed through, the red light goes out.

GUARD Walk on.

The guard leads the first prisoner further along the corridor until they stop outside the door of one of the many interrogation rooms.

GUARD Address him as 'Captain'!

He knocks on the door.

Hohenschönhausen, interrogation room — at the same time

The interrogation room is decorated with white wallpaper, and sluggish daylight seeps through off-white curtains. The furniture — shelves and a desk — are made of pale laminated wood. A sickly plant without a single flower stands on the windowsill. Hanging on the walls are a photographic portrait of General Secretary Honecker and a faded landscape photograph showing an autumn forest path. GERD WIESLER, a gaunt man in his mid-forties wearing a plain uniform, stands by the window, hears the knocking and calls over to the door.

WIESLER One moment.

He walks to one of the shelves and opens a drawer containing a tape recorder.

He switches it on, shuts the drawer and sits down. His movements are precise and minimal.


The guard brings the prisoner in, a slightly built man of about 30. He stands rather awkwardly in the room. Wiesler doesn't look up at him. He studies the prisoner's files on the table.

WIESLER Sit down.

The prisoner does so. He sits down carefully on a chair upholstered with orange fabric.

WIESLER (without looking up) Hands under your thighs, palms down.

Confused, the prisoner obeys. Finally Wiesler looks up.

WIESLER What do you have to tell us?

PRISONER I've done nothing. I know nothing ... I've done nothing.

There must be some mistake.

WIESLER You've done nothing, know nothing ... You think we imprison innocent people on a whim?


WIESLER If you think our humanistic state capable of such a thing, that alone would justify your arrest.

The prisoner is speechless in the face of this dialectic.

WIESLER We'd like to jog your memory, prisoner No. 227 ... On September 28th, Dieter Pirmasens, your friend and neighbor, fled to the West. We believe that he had help.

PRISONER I know nothing. He didn't even tell me he wanted to leave. I first heard about it at work.

WIESLER Please recount what you did on September 28th.

PRISONER It's in my statement.

WIESLER Tell me again.

PRISONER (as though speaking by rote) I was at Treptow Park memorial with my children, where I met my old friend Max Kirchner. We went to his place and listened to music until late. He has a telephone, you can call him to confirm this.

Wiesler writes everything down.

PRISONER (obstinately) Do you want to call him? I can give you the number.

Stasi college Potsdam-eiche, lecture theater — midday

PRISONER (on tape) ... call him? I can give you the number.

A finger presses the 'pause' button of a large reel-to-reel tape recorder fixed to the wall. Wiesler's finger. He is standing by the board in a small seminar room. Fifteen young men and women are listening to him: his students. On the board are various technical terms used by the Ministry for State Security: 'RECONNOITRE', 'ENLIGHTEN', 'CONSPIRE', 'OPERATIONAL PERSONNEL CONTROL' and 'OPERATIONAL PROCEDURE'.


WIESLER The enemies of our state are arrogant. Remember that. It takes patience. About 40 hours worth. Let's fast forward ...

He presses the fast-forward button. We can only imagine what suffering is being carried past by the swiftly moving tape. As the weird whirring sound continues CUT TO:

Hohenschönhausen, rest room — dawn

Wiesler lies sleeping on a pallet in a room that isn't much more luxurious than a prison cell, but which has pro forma, for example, a curtain. His uniform jacket hangs over a chair. He opens his eyes, gets up, puts his jacket on, leaves the room and closes the door. He walks down the corridor to the adjacent interrogation room.

Hohenschönhausen, interrogation room

Prisoner No. 227 has changed a great deal since the start of the interrogation. He is pale and his lips are dry. He can hardly sit upright. The guard has to support him by the shoulders. An interrogator is sitting at the table. When WIESLER comes in, he gets up and walks out past Wiesler, who hands him the key to the rest room. (The whirring of the fast-forwarding tape stops. We hear the click of a play button.)

Prisoner ... please ... I can't go on ... I don't know any more ... please let me sleep just a little ...

Wiesler sits down behind the table again. He looks at the transcripts that his deputy has written.

Prisoner (raises his hands pleadingly, with the last of his strength) Please ... let me sleep.

Wiesler looks at him with a blank expression and raises his eyebrows.

WIESLER Hands under your thighs.

The prisoner obeys, with great difficulty.

WIESLER Tell me again what you did on September 28th.

The prisoner drifts off to sleep. Wiesler gestures to the guard to wake him. The guard shakes him.

Prisoner (giving a start) Please, please ... just an hour, just a little ... a little sleep.

WIESLER Tell me again what you did on that day.

PRISONER I did nothing ... nothing ...

WIESLER What did you do that day?

The prisoner begins to weep quietly. Wiesler remains unmoved.

Stasi college Potsdam-eiche, lecture theater — midday

A young student, BENEDIKT LEHMANN, has become very uneasy. Now he can no longer contain himself:

LEHMANN Why keep him awake for so long? It's inhuman!

He is immediately taken aback by his own boldness. Wiesler doesn't respond, but pencils a cross by the student's name on the seating plan. We hear the exhausted weeping of prisoner 227 echoing around the room.

WIESLER An innocent prisoner will become more angry by the hour, due to the injustice suffered. He will shout and rage. A guilty prisoner becomes more calm and quiet. Or he cries. He knows he's there for a reason. The best way to establish guilt or innocence is non-stop interrogation.

Hohenschönhausen, interrogation room — night

WIESLER (unmoved) What did you do that day?

PRISONER (with the very last of his strength) I was at Treptow Park with ... with my children ... at the monument ... There I met my old friend Max Kirchner ... We went to his place and listened ... to music until late ... He has a telephone, you can call him to confirm this ...

Stasi college Potsdam-eiche, lecture theater — midday

WIESLER Do you notice anything about his statement?

LEHMANN (defiantly) It's the same as at the beginning.

WIESLER Exactly the same, word for word. Always keep a precise verbal record. People who tell the truth can reformulate things, and they do. A liar has prepared sentences, which he falls back on when under pressure. 227 is lying. We have two important indicators, and can increase the intensity.

Hohenschönhausen, interrogation room — night

WIESLER If you don't give names, we'll have to arrest your wife.

The prisoner trembles as he weeps.

WIESLER Jan and Nadja will be put into state care. Is that what you want?

The prisoner goes on weeping.

WIESLER Who was the person who helped him flee?

PRISONER (barely audibly) Gläske ...

WIESLER (quickly) Again! Speak clearly!

PRISONER Gläske, Werner Gläske.

WIESLER Werner Gläske — where does he work?

PRISONER He's a policeman ... In Köpenick ...

Prisoner 227 starts shaking. Wiesler looks at him, interested. Like a biologist looking at a laboratory animal. He gestures to the guard to lead him away. More carrying than leading.

WIESLER (to the prisoner) Now you can sleep.

The prisoner looks at Wiesler with a wounded glance that says, 'Really?' For a brief moment Wiesler almost seems to react to the glance. The door closes.

Stasi college Potsdam-eiche, lecture theater — midday

The students are starting to get noisy, discussing the case amongst themselves.

The tape runs on.

WIESLER Quiet! QUIET!! ... Listen ...

There's a rattling sound on the tape, hard to identify.

WIESLER Can anyone tell me what that is?

No one seems to know.

Hohenschönhausen, interrogation room — night

We see Wiesler sitting on the floor with white cloth gloves, removing the orange fabric that was stretched over the seat of the chair. He picks it up with a sterile pair of tongs and places it carefully in a labelled jar.

WIESLER (voice-over) It's the odor sample for the dogs. It must be collected at every interrogation. Never forget it!

Stasi college Potsdam-eiche, lecture theater — midday

Now he finally turns off the tape and looks at the students.

WIESLER Your subjects are enemies of Socialism. Never forget that.

Wiesler looks at his watch. He hasn't lost his sense of time: the second hand reaches twelve; it turns 5.30 p.m., and at that moment the college bell rings.

WIESLER Goodbye.

The students start to pack their things together. Then a single person is heard clapping. It is Lieutenant Colonel GRUBITZ, head of Division XX/7, responsible for the surveillance of church and culture. He stands in the door to the lecture hall. The students politely join in with his applause. As they leave they greet him respectfully.

His eye is caught by a pretty Cuban girl with olive skin as he goes up to Wiesler and shakes his hand.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ That was good. Really good. Who's that Cuban girl, by the way? She's not bad either.

Wiesler doesn't reply, but goes on meticulously gathering up his teaching materials, packing them away and wiping the board, Grubitz himself picks up the seating plan that Wiesler has put together, and notes the woman's name.

Then he turns back to Wiesler.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Tell me, why do you actually do this teaching, when you aren't at all interested in your students?

Wiesler isn't amused. Grubitz gazes nostalgically at the desks.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Do you remember when we sat here together ... twenty years ago?

Wiesler goes on sorting through his documents.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Did you know they've offered me a professorship?

Wiesler looks up for a moment. He's noticeably displeased. His expression doesn't escape Grubitz. He smiles smugly.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Life's not about good grades, you see, though mine weren't all that bad, thanks to you.

Wiesler doesn't find that very funny, either. Grubitz doesn't care.

WIESLER So what's up?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Why do you always think I'm scheming?

I wanted to invite you to the theater.

WIESLER (suspiciously) The theater?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ I heard that Minister Hempf is going.

As head of the Culture Department, I should show my face.

Grubitz takes a wallet from his uniform, and takes out two tickets. He hands one to Wiesler.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ It starts at 7 p.m. We should get going.


Gerhart Hauptmann theater, boxes — evening

Wiesler and Grubitz are led to their box by a gorgeous young ticket-girl. It's a small box to the left above the stage. But before they go in, Grubitz sends the ticket-girl in first.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Please take out the light bulbs.

She obliges, and is rewarded with a tip. She looks anxiously at Grubitz's cigarette, but doesn't dare to say anything. Grubitz notices.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Don't worry, I know smoking's forbidden in here.

He looks around very briefly for an ashtray, then gallantly hands her the stub.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ (appeasingly) You'll do that for me, won't you?

Wiesler and Grubitz enter the darkened box. From there they have a good view to the right behind them and to the circle above them, and the boxes to the side. They look down into the slowly filling theater. From his inside pocket Grubitz draws a small black pair of binoculars, Western-made, and studies the audience through it. He hands the binoculars to Wiesler.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ (to Wiesler) Minister Bruno Hempf, at 4 o'clock. In the stalls.

Wiesler gets his bearings: in the privileged seats, in the middle of the fifth row, there sits a heavily built man in his mid-fifties. His gray suit, his confident calm and the underlings sitting behind him instantly identify him as a political bigwig.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ He used to be in State Security, you know. Before they put him in the Culture Department of the Central Committee? He really cleaned up the theater scene.

That's probably where he got his love of the stage.

Wiesler goes on looking across the audience. Suddenly he trains his binoculars on a man in a short leather jacket, who's just coming in through a side entrance.

WIESLER That's Andi!

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ Yes, yes, a sorry tale. He's monitoring Paul Hauser, the journalist. He isn't getting anywhere, mind you. We suspect Hauser may even have identified him. A clever guy, that Hauser. He used to write about theater, now he has to cover farming. And he's still managing to cause us trouble. We even had him in Hohenschönhausen for a few days, but had to let him go. He's a rabble-rouser, that much is certain, but so far we haven't been able to pin anything on him. There he is, by the way, over there, in the side balcony, in the denim jacket.

Still looking through the binoculars, Wiesler pans from Andi in the stalls to Paul Hauser , an athletic, brown-haired forty-year-old, who is sitting directly above Andi in the side balcony. At that precise moment Hauser spots his Stasi agent, and gives him an exaggeratedly friendly greeting. Andi looks at the floor, ashamed of himself. Wiesler lowers the binoculars. Grubitz looks rather annoyed.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ I've got to stop this procedure. It's completely pointless.

The audience slowly take their seats. The door of the box to the right near the stage opens and a man comes in. It is GEORG DREYMAN. He is in his mid-forties, and moves like someone at ease with himself. The audience starts clapping.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ (explaining to Wiesler) Georg Dreyman, the writer.

Wiesler studies him through the binoculars. Dreyman is very confident. He waves down to the audience, like a king. Wiesler isn't pleased.

WIESLER An arrogant type, the kind I warn my students about.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRUBITZ But at least he's loyal. If they were all like him, I'd be out of a job. He's our only non-subversive writer who's also read in the West. He thinks the GDR is the greatest country on earth. See for yourself.

At that moment the curtain rises. The stage shows the interior of a factory, recognizable as such by pipes, industrial fans and, above all, two long conveyor-belts at which female workers in gray overalls stand performing simple tasks: unchanging, almost hypnotically monotonous hand movements. A foreman surveys their work. Suddenly one of them, MARTA (the actress CHRISTA-MARIA SIELAND, a beautiful dark-haired woman in her late thirties), drops silently to the floor. The gleaming piles of pieces of metal that are carried along the belt (and actually sorted by the women), fall from the ends of the belts and pile up into two mounds on the stage.

ELENA What's wrong, my child? A new vision?

ANJA Speak, Marta! Speak!

Marta wakes from her faint with a strange, deep moan. As her strength revives, she points to Elena.

MARTA/CHRISTA-MARIA Your Arthur ... is dead.

ELENA Arthur!

ANJA (imploringly) Can't you be wrong, just this once? I saw him this morning. I'm sure he's sitting on his tractor, in the sunshine —

MARTA/CHRISTA-MARIA No, sister, believe me. He fell. To his death.

Crushed by the mighty wheel. I see it, though I'd rather see any other horror ... The loyal men stand around him as you around me, and in the high sun cast seven short shadows upon his noble corpse. Who can replace this man? asks one. Why am I not spared these visions? Elena, go home and mourn. I'll finish your shift.


Excerpted from The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck. Copyright © 2007 Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword / John le Carré, 7,
Introduction / Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 9,
Dramatis Personae, 13,
Screenplay, 17,
Credits, 139,
Heads of Department, 142,
Appassionata: The Idea for the Film / Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 150,
Why I'm only now playing a lead cinema role in Germany / Sebastian Koch, 152,
"There have already been a lot of attempts to capture the reality of the GDR." / Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Christoph Hochhäusler in conversation with Ulrich Mühe, 162,
Wiesler's Change of Heart / Manfred Wilke, 177,
Glossary of Abbreviations, 189,
Selected Awards and Prizes, 190,

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