Jungian Archetypes in The Lives of Others

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Jungian Archetypes in The Lives of Others

Post  IrisT on Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:41 pm

Jungian Archetypes: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Plot Summary

Set in German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1984, The Lives of Others tells the story of how the Stasi (East German secret police) monitor the art and cultural scenes of East Berlin. The main character, Stasi Captian Gerd Wiesler, is assigned to spy on playwright Greorg Dreyman, who is suspected of disloyalty to the state. The Stasi bugs the apartment that Dreyman shares with his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Cleland. Wiesler proceeds to listen and summarize what he hears in his reports to the state.

Although Dreyman is a communist and supports the GDR, he disapproves of the way the state treats his friends, who are mostly blacklisted theatre directors. Dreyman is infuriated when a theatre director friend is driven to suicide by his inability to work, and proceed to write an anonymous article regarding concealed suicide rates in East Germany. The article is published in a West German magazine and the Stasi develops more suspicion toward him. Meanwhile, Captain Wiesler becomes sympathetic toward Dreyman, knowingly covers up Dreyman’s actions against the state and writes dishonest facts in his reports.

Character Archetypes

The Outcast:
Captain Wiesler interacts with few people and remains an outcast throughout the film. He becomes enchanted by Dreyman and Cleland upon listening in on them and intentionally lies in his reports in order to protect the couple. This creates conflict with his loyalty to the state. Although he never leaves evidence of his doings, his actions catch the attention of his supervisor, who gives him a promotional ban for 20 years. Eventually he loses his position and power in the Stasi system. His beliefs and morals prevent him from fully supporting the state. He is neither accepted by his colleagues in GDR nor the artist circle he is spying on. Wiesler spends his time questioning where he fits in the society that he is living in.

The Persona:
Captain Wiesler’s persona is one that is highly significant throughout the film. One could identify him as a stern leader who does not question the state, but the audience will realize that this idea of him is flawed. Throughout the film he develops sympathetic feelings toward people and put across many human characteristics. He longs for a companion and realizes the significance of enjoying one’s work. Despite all the change in him, he tries maintains a stern and serious impression as a Stasi captain.

Situational Archetypes

Battle between Good and Evil:
The artist community is at a constant battle with the state until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. There is a corruption in the state in the sense that their goal is “to know everything,” which in turn prevents artists from having free will. The GDR reinforces the fact that all East German citizens must remain loyal to the state. Themes in art and literature are controlled. Dreyman did not use his own name for the suicide article because informing the public of suicide rates would impact the state negatively. He also needs to be cautious about the subject matter of his plays, for there would be consequences if the state viewed them in the wrong way. Artists are unable to create freely, and those who do are blacklisted and prohibited to work. The system of the GDR causes people to live in terror and constantly strive for free will.

Many characters in the film are in battles with themselves over what is right and wrong. Wiesler is introduced to new ideas throughout his work, and frequently questions whether he should follow his emotions, or obey the state. Dreyman has conflicting ideas toward the state; he wants to remain loyal, yet he can’t bear to see his blacklisted artist friends suffer. Dreyman’s girlfriend, Christa-Maria Cleland experiences a difficult psychological battle at the end when she is forced to either bring about Dreyman’s downfall, or her own.

Symbolic Archetypes

The Journey:
Through the act of spying on Dreyman and Cleland, Wiesler is forced to go on a psychological journey to discover what it means to be morally correct. During the operation he develops ideas and emotions that conflict with the ideas that he had been taught. He realizes that there is more to life than the systematic bliss of working for the Stasi. He notices the love and loyalty between Dreyman and Cleland, and realizes that he lacks these concepts in his own life. Because of this, he comes into question the legitimacy of the government system. Throughout the film he tries to rise above the moral corruption in which he is placed, but comprehends that he has a personal responsibility to fit in. He does not voice his opinions regarding the state, and tries to assimilate into the community by living a regular life as a mail man.


The Lives of Others successfully depicts a depressing time in Germany. Its layers of emotions and events make the characters believable, and it is as much a history lesson as it is a psychological thriller.


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Post  Mr. C on Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:37 pm

Iris - thank you for tackling a foreign language film - you've done a wonderful analysis. I particularly liked your analysis of Wiesler as an Outcast and the focus on the Persona. Wiesler sounds like a fascinating character who is torn between an inner moral code and an outer persona -- and even loyalty to the State and conforming. Clearly there is Good vs. Evil, but I wonder if there is some kind of freedom polarity being explored as well. Perhaps freedom vs. control or something like that. Also, you have correctly identified Good vs. Evil and The Journey, however, the former is symbolic and the latter is situational.
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