When he was a film student, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck read about a conversation between Lenin and Gorky. “Lenin said he didn’t want to listen to his favorite piece of music anymore, Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata,’ because, he said, ‘If I listen to that music, it makes me want to stroke people’s heads and tell them nice things, but I have to smash in those heads without mercy to finish my revolution,’” von Donnersmarck told the Los Angeles Times. He immediately pictured a man with headphones on. “He thinks he’s going to listen to his enemy saying terrible things, and actually ends up listening to beautiful music. Within a couple of hours, I had the basic plot of the story.” As an East German Stasi agent listens in on the lives of two artists, the repercussions change them all irrevocably.