The Lives of Others

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Lives of Others Movie Poster Image
Art battles duty in bracing German spy thriller.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 137 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The East German government spies on artists and other citizens in order to maintain control; effective interrogation techniques are discussed and praised; corrupt officials abuse their power to get what they want and make others fear them. But the movie also sends the message that the power of art and passion can transform a life.


Secret police interrogations lead to torture (cries heard off-screen); discussion of a character's suicide (and suicide in general); a central character is struck by a vehicle (bloody body on street as onlookers show distress).


Several scenes show or suggest sexual activity. In the back seat of a car, a man gropes an impassive woman and undoes his fly as the driver watches in the rearview mirror; kissing and embracing between the primary couple; spy overhears a sex scene (viewers see its beginning) and records it in his journal; another somewhat steamy sex scene between primary couple; man hires prostitute (brief scene of their interlude, with her in lingerie); woman naked in shower (viewers see back, profile, breasts). Sex is traded for safety from the secret police/government.


In subtitles: "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character has an illegal pill addiction; frequent smoking (the movie is set in Europe, and the year is 1984, when smoking was more common); drinking at several parties and in bars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that even if kids were interested in this subtitled German film, it's not for them. Set in the oppressive world of communist East Germany in the 1980s, it features psychological cruelty (including interrogation tactics like sleep deprivation) and one unexpected, violent death. A character's suicide prompts discussion about the government's efforts to cover up suicide rates in East Germany during the 1980s. There's also some fairly mature sexual material (a couple undresses and kisses in preparation for lovemaking, a man has an interlude with a nude prostitute, a government official crudely gropes a disinterested woman). Characters smoke lots of cigarettes and drink liquor.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydabbo January 27, 2009

Really depicts life in the former German Democratic Republic

As an educator, it saddens me that some parents do not approve of this movie to a certain age group. In Germany, you would be allowed to watch this movie at ag... Continue reading
Parent of a 16-year-old Written bybronco7732 November 10, 2009

Amazing but mature

Amazing german spy film that is gripping as well as emotional binding. One of the best made movies of the decade. However, there i some explict sexual conduct w... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bydsdsfds April 7, 2017

Suitable for teenagers

This film shows a great insight into the GDR and the oppression people in this regime experienced. There are several role models, and the films overall theme is... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylin2211 April 9, 2008
wow... if you manage to get through the first 45 minutes or so you will be rewarded by an amazing movie. I wish they could go back and edit the boring first par... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1984 East Berlin, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a captain in the East German Ministry for State Security, is assigned to observe playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and look for proof that he's not as loyal as he seems. In the course of his surveillance, Wiesler discovers that Dreyman's live-in actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), is cheating on him with the odious Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who threatens to ruin her career if she doesn't submit to him. Though Wiesler's take on the situation begins to diverge from his superiors' as his sympathy for the couple grows, he knows how to cover his tracks. But he soon finds himself at the center of a swirl of deception and develops a relationship of sorts with Christa-Maria. Wiesler doesn't so much doubt his previous convictions -- that his work is crucial in maintaining order -- as rationalize his new belief. To boil it down to the most basic level: Art transforms him.

Is it any good?

Taut and intelligent, The Lives of Others was the German nominee for 2007's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how a government like the one in the movie -- characterized by surveillance and lack of free speech -- affects its citizens. How do the characters' surroundings mirror their internal states? How does Wiesler change as he listens to life in Christa-Maria and Georg's apartment, and how can you tell his attitude is shifting?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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