A Journey to Moral Development in the Film, The Lives of Others

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Wiesler’s journey in moral development in The Lives of Othersis clearly mapped out as a path from the conventional level of thinking and reasoning to a more “principled” level. The stages from four, the society maintaining orientation, to stage six, the universal ethical principle orientation, is a big step and is a catalyst for many radical and progressive changes seen in society over time. As shown by Wiesler, when people transcend their obligations or blind duties to their institutions and start valuing the dignity and inherent worth of individuals who all have the ability to contribute equally to the human experience, true selfless action can be achieved.

As a result of his devotion, Weisler is fervently loyal in his job to identify and extract confessions from political and social dissidents who pose a threat to what is defined as “good” and “acceptable” by the state of East Germany. Weisler’s familiarity and clear devotion gives him the instinct early in the film to spy on a famous playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his lover, an actress named Christa-Maria Sieland. As Weisler monitors his two targets over time, he becomes intrigued and disturbed by the subsequent drama that unfolds, resulting in his disillusionment of the state that he swore to protect. Through wiretaps, he learns of the personal relationships and lives of Dreyman and Sieland. He learns that Sieland is an insecure actress who is consistently exploited by Bruno Hempf, the minister of culture, who regularly blackmails her for sexual favors.

Dreyman’s discovery of Sieland’s relationship with Hempf oddly gives Wiesler a humanizing experience. Wiesler did not expect the unfolding drama, but is absorbed by the realness of genuine human interaction. For the first time, Wiesler is overwhelmed with empathy for the Dreyman and Sieland, and the struggles they have to go through as citizens of a closely repressed society. Sieland’s exploitation by the state also contributes to his declining faith in the righteousness of the state. Though indirectly, Wiesler experienced the selfishness of his superiors, such as his boss, Anton Grubitz, who solely views his operation to spy on Dreyman as an opportunity for advancement.

Throughout his operation, Wieslerslowly transforms his moral principles, and as a result defies authority for the first time and acts on his own conscience. By the end of the film, Wiesler’s moral development culminates in his intentional protection of Dreymanfrom incrimination evidence that would have identified Dreyman as the author of an influential West German newspaper article. In this situation, Weisler purposefully breaks the law because his sense of justice now differs; after witnessing the suffering of Sieland and Dreyman, he realizes that the state may not be the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong.

Instinctively, Wiesler’s sense of justice approaches the next stage in his moral development as he is exposed to the realities of unfairness and injustice under the regime that he is a part of. At the end of the film, in defying his duty to the state to incriminate Dreyman for political dissent, Wiesler’s decisions are clearly based on “moral values and principles that have validity… apart from the authority of [the state]” (Kohlberg, 66). The self-sacrifice he makes serves as his own atonement in his newfound sense of justice. Now at stage six, or the universal ethical principle orientation, Wiesler develops a new sense of justice that stands on the “dignity of human beings as individuals,” and not as subordinates and inferiors to the institutions they are a part of (Kohlberg, 67).


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A Journey to Moral Development in the Film, The Lives of Others. (2022, Dec 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-journey-to-moral-development-in-the-film-the-lives-of-others/

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