(Warning: Spoiler alert.)
This is my homework for screenwriting module, although, after last night’s viewing, I realise my lecturer also played the video partially to us before to illustrate the point on dramatic irony: when the reader has more information on what is taking place or what may develop in the story before the character or the characters.
The movie starts in 1984 in Berlin with a Stasi (State Secret Police) interrogating a man and the recording of the interrogation is then used by Wiesler to teach the group of rookies as to why the man is lying despite being kept awake for forty hours. When a rookie remarked on the cruel method, Wiesler marks him, giving us the impression that he is indeed a cruel man.
A corrupt Minister Hempf is smitten with stage actress Christa but she spurns him, and he wants her playwright lover, Georg Drayman, arrested, although he is deemed clean. Wiesler is tasked to monitor him by planting bugs around the apartment, in order to find an excuse to arrest him. As Wiesler gets more involved with the lives of Drayman and Christa, and witness their love for each other and the loyalty of their artist friends for them, he can’t help but compare to his own pathetic life, friendless and alone, when he can’t even trust the colleagues at Stasi. He finds himself rooting for them in the harsh and cold socialist environment. So when there were many opportunities to arrest Drager, especially after the suicide of his good friend and director, Wieler tweaked the report to favour Drager, until the arrest of Christa for drugs consumption when she betrayed Drager to save her own life and career. Yet Weisler was there to save Darger again. The case against them closes when Christa gets killed in a car accident and Weisler is demoted to the post department for twenty years, for his failure with Drager. However, four years later, the Berlin Wall collapses and he’s free. On a chance meeting with the corrupt minister, Drager is shocked to learn that his house had been on the watched list. He learned who his saviour his. Two years later, his novel, Weisler buys the book The Sonata for a Good Man by Drager, which is dedicated to him.
Good story aside, the method of telling it is also important:
- Exposition – The prisoner is made to repeat his statement for the audience despite the fact that he had already written a statement.
- There were many instances of dramatic irony in this story. Drager’s neighbour is warned by the Starsi to keep the secret that his house is bugged, and then Drager seeks her to help with a tie, and ask her, ‘You can keep a secret, right?’ to not let Christa knows he can’t knot a tie, not knowing that the neighbour is keeping a bigger secret from him.
- Drager’s friend’s remark: ‘It’s (Drager’s home) the only place in GDR where I can say anything I want.’ The audience knows the house is bugged.
- When Weisler buys the book in the last scene and the cashier asks him, ‘Shall I gift wrap it?’ and he answers, ‘No, it’s for me,’ meaning it literally.
- There were many suspenseful moments when the audience knows more than the characters – like the house being bugged, the typewriter’s hidden place (although we didn’t know initially that Christa did not reveal this in the first search by the Starsi.)
- There were many internal conflicts experienced by the characters – for Christa when she is arrested, for Weisler.
- The transformation of Weisler from who we initially thought is a cruel man focused to bring Drager down is dramatically change by the time the film ends.
So this movie is indeed a good story well told, as evident by its win in the 2006 Academy Award for the best foreign film.