A good amount of my own life had been spent under the care of my devout Roman Catholic grandmother. When I finally entered high school, I had begun to move away from that lifestyle. As I moved away from that lifestyle I had only found myself growing into a less religious person but I never found myself turning into an atheist all the way, rather instead I happen to be an agnostic. Part of me believes that something is watching me performing an everyday activity and is able to read my thoughts. The one thing I ask myself is what do they do with it? I ask myself this rather frequently because I’m always thinking about what happens after I die, and I can’t commit to atheism in that sense. I can’t commit because I feel another presence even when I’m alone. One I wish to speak to, and maybe they had something to say to us, akin to the angels in Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire.
I think it was only fitting that I bring up my own religious beliefs as I talk about Wings of Desire because in describing why I find the film to be a serene experience. This is a film set in Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall, told from the perspective of two angels Damiel and Cassiel. These angels wander around Berlin, unseen by its many inhabitants except for the children, reading the thoughts of the many stressed citizens who also wander around inside of a search. But Damiel’s fascination with humanity doesn’t limit itself only there, it grows from a desire to experience human activities even if it means he will ultimately become a mortal. When I first watched this film it was at a time in which I had first experienced an existential crisis because I had only been pushing myself away from the teachings of the Catholic church. And yet, a part of that past still catches up to me when I look at how Wenders tells another story from the point of view of the unseen entities lurking around the city.
Something I’ve always pondered about ever since I had moved away from the religious lifestyle that I had been sheltered within was what if there really is an entity of some sort watching me. What do they think about what I do on a regular basis, and are they trying to help me move forward or do they want to take part in the pleasure they notice I experience? Do they want to show a sign of their own presence in my own everyday life? As Bruno Ganz exemplifies from his own performance as Damiel, he is capable of understanding human emotion and he wants to show his presence for the better. And it isn’t just from his own experience with having fallen in love that takes him in, for he ends up meeting up with none other than the legendary actor Peter Falk, who feels his presence and wants him to join within the pleasures of the human world. It’s something I still think about because of the fact that I can never sit still with the confidence of being alone, I know conscience is coming back to me in some way or another. And that feeling of something watching what I do leaves me asking what do they think of how I live my own life, will I be able to improve for the better if I feel their help comes my way?
Wim Wenders has clearly made Wings of Desire as a loving ode to the people in Berlin, and the camera often weaves around many of the city’s most famous landmarks and our lead character, Damiel – just wanders aimlessly around the city almost like I would on a regular weekend without the company of my domineering family. On all ends, it is as beautiful a love letter to the city as they can ever get. It reminisces of Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad – because said film’s dreamlike quality only highlights the alienation that one suffers from being overwhelmed by beauty. When I walk around Mississauga the same way these angels are wandering Berlin, it isn’t the beauty of the city that captures me immediately. It is the fact that there isn’t anyone else around to share the experience with, and seeing Wenders make that connection feel mutual between both humans and angels leaves me wondering if said entity from the prior paragraph gets tired with nothing to do up above, maybe they want to present themselves in human form in order to enjoy what they see.
But how does Wings of Desire function as a romance story? The film’s beauty isn’t in merely here, it is the fact that Wim Wenders has blurred away the lines between mortality and immortality to find a common link within emotional consciousness. Damiel is in love with Marion, and Cassiel just watches over the minds of many even if he knows he cannot present an image of himself to be seen by many. If the most obvious motif from switching the cinematography from black-and-white to colour was simply to differentiate angelic perspectives with those of the mortals, it also gives an idea of the film’s reflective nature about what it is like to exist in any form. And yet how this ties into the film’s romantic core, we just feel coldness because of the alienation present in the lack of willingness to believe thus these beings never learn what they should about ordinary mortal life because humanity keeps them at a distance.
These angels speak in a very poetic language, even with one another. The film opens up with a recital of “Lied Von Klindseim” by Peter Handke that gets repeated in order to symbolize who feels the presence of the angels the most. It is the children who feel it, and perhaps from their own thoughts the angels got a touch of what happiness truly is. On any day I like to think to myself about whether or not I am able to experience that ever again. It’s a movie where everything feels present and yet it is invisible to our own eyes in the same way that these angels are to the human characters in the movie. And like that, I only begin to feel another presence coming by within the loneliness that I have endured over the years. In this alienated love story, we don’t have just romance, we have something that just feels so life-affirming, coming right from a perspective that has yet to experience such in the way that we know we do. Perhaps it is only time we should teach them by our ways, if they really are around.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Argos Films.
Directed by Wim Wenders
Screenplay by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, Richard Reitinger
Produced by Wim Wenders, Anatole Dauman
Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk
Release Year: 1987
Running Time: 127 minutes