The cinematography was by Max Fassbender, who two years previously had worked on Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, one of the earliest cinematic treatments of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Richard Oswald later became a director of more mainstream films, as did his son Gerd. Veidt became a major film star the year after Anders was released, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Veidt portrays a successful violinist, Paul Körner, who falls in love with one of his male students. A sleazy extortionist threatens to expose Körner as a homosexual. Flashbacks show us how Körner became aware of his orientation and tried first to change it, then to understand it. Körner and the extortionist end up in court, where the judge is sympathetic to the violinist, but when the scandal becomes public, Körner's career is ruined and he is driven to suicide.
The film opens with Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt) reading the daily newspaper obituaries, which are filled with vaguely worded and seemingly inexplicable suicides. Körner, however, knows that Paragraph 175 is hidden behind them all — that it hangs over German homosexuals "like the Sword of Damocles."
After this thesis statement, the main plot begins. Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) is a fan and admirer of Körner, a violin virtuoso, and he approaches Körner in hopes of becoming a student of his. Körner agrees and they begin lessons together, during which they fall for one another.
Both men experience the disapproval of their parents. Neither are out, but Sivers's parents object to the increasingly large amount of attention he focuses on the violin and his unusual infatuation with Körner, and the Körners do not understand why he has shown no interest in finding a wife and starting a family. Körner sends his parents to see his mentor, the Doctor (Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld).
The Doctor appears several times in the film, each time to deliver speeches more intended for the audience than the advancement of the plot. In this, his first appearance, he tells Körner's parents:
You must not condemn your son because he is a homosexual, he is not to blame for his orientation. It is not wrong, nor should it be a crime. Indeed, it is not even an illness, merely a variation, and one that is common to all of nature.
After Körner's coming out, he and Sivers begin seeing each other more openly. While walking together, hand in hand, through the park, they pass a man who recognizes Körner. Later that day, when Körner is alone, this man, Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel) confronts him and demands hush money or else he will expose Sivers.
Körner pays him and keeps it a secret from Sivers that he does so. Eventually, however, the blackmailer's demands become too great and Körner refuses to pay (Bollek reads Körner's reply to his demand in a gay bar). Bollek decides instead to break into Körner's house while he and Sivers are performing, but he is discovered by Sivers and Körner on their return and a fight breaks out. In the course of the fight, Bollek reveals to Sivers that he has been blackmailing him.
Sivers runs away and faces hardships trying to survive alone. Körner is left dejected and, over a photo of Sivers, remembers his past.
His first memory is of boarding school, when he and his boyfriend Max are discovered kissing by their teacher and he is expelled. Next, he remembers University and his solitary and lonely life there, and the growing impossibility of trying to play straight.
He remembers trying an ex-gay hypnotherapist, but finding him only to be a charlatan. Then he first met the Doctor, whose reaction was much different from those he had previously met. Among other things, he told him:
Love for one of the same sex is no less pure or noble than for one of the opposite. This orientation can be found in all levels of society, and among respected people. Those that say otherwise come only from ignorance and bigotry.
Remembering further, he recalled first meeting Bollek at a gay dance hall, and Bollek leading him on before ultimately turning on him and using his homosexuality to blackmail him.
Back in the present, Körner takes Else Sivers (Anita Berber), Kurt Sivers' sister, to the Doctor's lecture on alternative sexuality. The Doctor speaks on topics such as homosexuality, lesbianism, gender identity, intersexuality, the perils of stereotypes, and the idea that sexuality is physically determined, rather than a mental condition.
Körner reports Bollek for blackmail and has him arrested. In retaliation, Bollek exposes Körner. The Doctor gives testimony on Körner's behalf, but both are found guilty of their respective crimes. Bollek is sentenced to three years for extortion. The judge is sympathetic to Körner, and gives him the minimum sentence allowable: one week.
Allowed to go home before his starting his term, Körner finds himself shunned by friends and strangers alike, and no longer employable. Even his family tells him there is only one honorable way out. He then takes a handful of pills, committing suicide.
Sivers rushes to his side as he lies dead. Körner's parents blame Sivers for what has happened, but Else harshly rebukes them. Meanwhile, Sivers attempts to kill himself as well, but the Doctor prevents him and delivers his final speech:
You have to keep living; live to change the prejudices by which this man has been made one of the countless victims. ... [Y]ou must restore the honor of this man and bring justice to him, and all those who came before him, and all those to come after him. Justice through knowledge!
The film closes with an open German law book, turned to Paragraph 175, as a hand holding a brush crosses it out.
The film premiered in May 1919 and initially was success in the cinema. In a short time after premier, conservative Catholic, Protestant and right wing anti-semitic groups started to protest and disturb the public screenings. This initiated a wide public debate on censorship. The constitution of Weimar Republic initially assured freedom of speech and expression, there were special qualification, created for cinema, which was a response to Different from the Others production and screenings. According to those special articles, films, qualified as obscene or dangerous to young public had to be censored. Magnus Hirschfeld organised screenings of the film for members of Weimar National Assembly, Prussian State Council, Landtag of Prussia and government officials in Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. This didn't yield any results and in May 1920 specific censorship provision for films were approved by legislators. The censor office was created in Berlin and it's first review was of "Different from the Others". The censorship commission consisted of three psychiatrists - Emil Kraepelin, Albert Moll and Siegfried Placzek. All of them were opponents of Hirschfeld and his advocacy for legalization of homosexuality. The panel eventually advised to ban public screening of the film, which was made into the law in October 1920. The law claimed that film is biased towards Paragraph 175 and hence presents one sided view, confuses young audience about homosexuality and can be used for recruitment of underage viewers to became homosexuals. The film was allowed to be shown only in private and to medical professionals. At the end, the only venue, where the film was screened for public was Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, where it was shown for education and at special events.
The film, which co-starred and was co-written by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, refers to Hirschfeld's theory of "sexual intermediacy". The theory places homosexuality within a broad spectrum comprising heterosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and transvestism (a word invented by Hirschfeld). The film's protagonist first meets his blackmailer at a costume party, and the blackmailer also frequents a drag club; these scenes are the earliest film footage of gay men and lesbians dancing. The film was initially shipped in 40 copies throughout Germany and the Netherlands by Oswald, and it was shown for nearly a year before the authorities stepped in and banned public screenings, allowing it to be shown only to doctors and lawyers. The Nazis destroyed the majority of the prints and only one copy of the film is known to exist.
UCLA Film and Television Archive purchased an original fine-grain master positive of film's footage, which Hirschfeld inserted in his own film “Laws of Love” from the Russian State Film and Photo Archive.
The film was screened as part of official programm at Outfest in 2012. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Teddy Awards, the film was selected to be shown at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016. In October 21, 2016, "Different from the Others" was screened at NewFest - New York's LGBT Film Festival. The film was also screened in a special event in Jerusalem Cinematheque. Conrad Veidt as Paul Körner
Leo Connard as Körner's Father
Ilse von Tasso-Lind as Körner's Sister
Alexandra Willegh as Körner's Mother
Ernst Pittschau as Sister's Husband
Fritz Schulz as Kurt Sivers
Wilhelm Diegelmann as Sivers' Father
Clementine Plessner as Sivers' Mother
Anita Berber as Else
Reinhold Schünzel as Franz Bollek
Helga Molander as Mrs. Hellborn
Magnus Hirschfeld as Arzt (German for Doctor)
Karl Giese as Young Paul Körner