Friday, January 28, 2011

Wings of Desire (1987)

Title: Wings of Desire (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Peter Falk


Christianity teaches us that invisible creatures known as Angels are all around us, hovering above us, watching us like the ultimate voyeurs. German director Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire (‘Der Himmel Uber Berlin’ in German, which literally translates to ‘Heavens Over Berlin’) plays with this idea that angels are all around us, we just cant see them. Kind of a scary thought if you ask me, having creatures looking at every single moment of our lives, but so goes the teachings of The Bible.

Wings of Desires centers around two angels, Damiel and Cassiel. Their job is to “Assemble, Testify and Preserve” their observations on human behavior. So these Angels go around writing down things they consider interesting or relevant about the everyday life of humans. But Damiel is growing weary of seeing and not living. He wants to know what its like to be human. This desire of his is augmented when he falls in love with a young trapeze artist he has taken an interest in. Will he fulfill his desire to become a human and experience life first hand?

Marion, the trapeze artist.

I loved how this film played with the idea of angels. Essentially angels are supposed to be watching us all the time. Some people even seem to think that each of us is supposed to have a guardian angel assigned to watching over us through out our lives, helping us and guiding us. I personally don’t believe that, but I like how this film played with those ideas. On this film angels hang around people, checking them out, seeing what they do, and writing it all down on their little notebooks so they can review it later. Angels can also hear people’s thoughts in this film, so we get these amazing scenes of Damiel and Cassiel listening in on what everyone is thinking as they walk about the earth. Some of the most interesting scenes are about Angels simply listening to people as they are reading books in a library or simply walking through the street. It is a really interesting idea to be able to hear peoples most inner thoughts. In real life, this is never possible, yet haven’t you ever thought something and felt like damn, I should write this stuff down! Interesting, raw, perverse and sometimes even poetic thoughts creep into our minds all the time. Every thought about that? What if someone could hear everything you were thinking as you rode the bus or the train?

An angel listens in on an old mans thoughts as he reads a book

Most of the times, it is in our minds that we are most truthful; our thoughts are unfiltered and unafraid of judgment because only we can hear them. On Wings of Desire we get to hear what a suicidal man is thinking, what an old poet thinks as he plots his next novel, and what a lonely person thinks when he gets home. It’s a really interesting premise, this idea of angels listening in on people’s private thoughts. There is this one amazing scene that really got to me where this guy is riding the train, and he is being so negative about his life. The guy is just thinking the darkest most negative thoughts, suddenly, the angel taps him on the shoulder and suddenly his thoughts switch to happy and positive. It was such a beautiful moment, I loved it. This film really milks this idea for all its worth. It’s an idea that was also used in films like Nancy Mayers’s What Women Want (2000), where Mel Gibson’s character could actually hear people’s thoughts. If I remember correctly there’s an episode of Gilligan’s Island where everyone in the island could take a magic fruit that would give you the ability to hear what people thought. But of course, none of these play as profoundly with the idea as Wings of Desire does.

The main thrust of the film comes from how angels perceive us. They look at us and find little details in our lives that we might find unimportant yet display incredible amounts of humanity. So these angels kind of fall in love with humanity and appreciate it on a whole different level then you and I. There’s a scene where both angels are swapping their notes on humanity and we get to hear the things they write down in their little notebooks. Little details and things that we normally take for granted, yet angels find amusing because they show the core of human nature. And that’s where Damiel’s suffering comes in. He can observe, but he can’t really live. He becomes obsessed with the pain and suffering of life; with the uncertainty of living, the discoveries, the emotions and the colors. Speaking of colors, they play an important part in the film. In order to demonstrate how devoid of emotions and life an angels existence is, the supernatural is displayed in lifeless Sepia tones, while real life is displayed in vibrant color. And since were speaking about the films look, I might as well mention that the film has a retro look to it, at times you might feel like the film was shot in the 50's, at times it feels modern.

In the past, other films have also played with this idea of angels jealousy towards human beings. The firsts ones that comes to mind are The Prophecy (1995) with Christopher Walken, and Legion (2010). Both of these films give a horror vibe to the whole premise of jealousy from angels to humans. It’s interesting that this sort of jealousy that angels feel for humanity also comes straight from the bible itself. Don’t know how many of you guys know, but there was a group of angels in the bible that started to look down upon human females with lust. And so, they became humans so they could be with them. After taking human form, they had sex with these women and their sons became these evil giants that ruled the land, known as The Nephilim. Point is, this film is partially influenced by these ideas from the bible. Only in the bible, these angels are seen as rebellious angels, while on this film there seems to be no reprimand for these angels desires to become human. On this film this is simply a choice that the angel has. In Wings of Desire, Damiel falls in love with a trapeze artist named Marion, and I loved these scenes where he is observing her loneliness. He falls for her because he can hear her thoughts and musings on loneliness, and he feels her need to love and be loved. City of Angels (1998) was an American remake of Wings of Desire starring Nicholas Cage as the Angel and Meg Ryan as the object of his affections, though that film focused way more on the romantic/sexual side of the whole affair, and it resembled very little what Wenders did on his film. Wings of Desire is the deeper film of the two, sometimes getting truly poetic and existential.

What Wings of Desire really does is, it makes us appreciate life more. We are not like angels, we have life. We can hate, love, feel pain and joy all in the span of a day at times. The film actually kind of makes you proud to be able to feel, even if its pain that your feeling, because it means you’re alive. At one point Damiel is amazed that he can now bleed like every other human can. So basically, the film asks us not to take life for granted because every little speck of life, every little insignificant little moment matters because it is life. And life is wonderous and bitter at the same time. It might be dull at times, but it is also filled with discoveries and wonderment at the next turn. In one moment, Damien (now human) asks Peter Falk (also an ex angel) “Waits! I want to know everything!” and Peter Falk tells him “You need to figure that out for yourself, that’s the fun of it!” Wim Wenders followed this film with a sequel entitled Faraway! So Close in 1993, looking forward to seeing it soon.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wings of Desire (The Criterion Collection)Wings of Desire [VHS]Wings of Desire (Special Edition)What Women Want-DvdThe Prophecy


SFF said...

I enjoyed this film upon its release. I picked it up on VHS I believe. Anyway, I feel I would appreciate it more now. The cinematography is amazing. Cheers on another terrific film choice Francisco! A beautiful foreign film.

Best, SFF

Franco Macabro said...

It had some really amazing moments in it, like that moment where the angel follows the poet and his plans of being the worlds favorite thing about the film is how poetic and personal the film gets when we hear peoples thoughts. Stuff we'd normally never get to listen, these moments give the film an intimacy that I found refreshing.


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