Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

Wings of Desire (1987)


93 posts in this topic

Posted · Report post

(some spoilers, I guess, not that this is a movie of big plot twists or surprises)

Okay, I've seen it on DVD and here are some thoughts.

First, the film is obviously beautiful, haunting, and poetic. It's also rich in striking imagery, elegant in cinematic technique, and enigmatically enacted. I was much struck by the use of the balconies and stairwells in the library, the back-and-forth views of the two sides of the wall against which a dying man leans as he hangs between life and death, and similar devices. I was drawn in by the interior monologues floating by. As a meditation on being incarnate, "Wings of Desire" a thoughtful, provocative picture.

And yet I can't avoid the force of deep, deep reservations over the portrayal of angels.

I watched most of the "Angels Among Us" documentary on the making of the film. I was very interested by the screenwriter's comment that, when Wenders came to him with the idea for the film, he hadn't thought about angels since childhood, but that his immediate thought was that if he were an angel, the one thing he would want would be to be human.

In a way, I think this is very insightful. Human beings are inherently incarnate spirits (or spiritual animals, whichever way you want to look at it), and given our nature a disembodied, incorporeal existence would be unnatural -- or rather, is unnatural, for it happens when we die (pace Michael and any other soul-sleep advocates). We need our bodies. After we die, we need resurrection to be complete again. Gnosticism, Manichaeanism, and angelicism are errors to be resisted.

Yet angels are, of course, different. As Lewis pointed out, having two legs is unnatural and crippling for a horse, but not for a man. Purely spiritual existence is as natural for angels as is purely corporeal existence for beasts; an angel no more experiences privation over not having a body than we experience privation over not having tusks or compound eyes. Angelic life must be imagined as having its own fullness and richness transcending corporeality. Wenders' use of black-and-white suggests and is meant to suggest angelic experience as somehow less than human experience; and while there would otherwise be no reason to mention the two movies in the same paragraph, every time we shifted from color (human perception) to black and white (angelic perception) I was reminded of how Daredevil was able to depict a perception of the world that was somehow beyond or more than sight rather than less. Give me angels like that.

On the other hand, maybe we don't interpret the angels so literally. Yes, there are references to biblical appearances of angels (including one from Tobit, evoking a Catholic rather than Protestant or modern Jewish milieu) that tie the story to real-world belief about angels. But maybe we can ignore these and view these angels as an imaginary class of fantasy angels, not real-world angels (the way we still see Samantha and Endora as fantasy witches, not real-world witches, even though they refer to the Salem witch trials).

Maybe the film is really about human nature and not angelic nature. Maybe these angels are made in our image, rather than we being made in theirs (which is how the film seems to interpret the plural first person in Genesis 1 -- that God is saying to the angels, "Let us, i.e., you angels and I, make man in our own image"). Maybe the film sheds light on incarnational existence and angelicism in humans without having much meaningful to say about angels as they really are (or as we might imagine them without contradicting what little we know about them).

But wait, it gets more problematic. The whole business of an angel wanting to be human, becoming human, falling to earth, is curiously mixed up with the idea of angels falling, becoming fallen angels. That phrase itself never appears in the film, but it is often mentioned by the filmmakers in the documentary. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) clearly falls out of the sky, followed by his breastplate. Also, his yen to be human is tied up with a kind of romanticization of evil; he expresses a longing to "lie through his teeth" and attract the attention of every demon in the area (a fortuitous reference that suggests that at least he doesn't "fall" in the same way that Lucifer did); and it seems that Ganz sleeps with his circus angel on the evening he meets her.

This romanticization of fall / sin / sex, combined with the sense that the angels are really us and not angels at all, creates an additional layer of difficulty. As most of you probably know, there are schools of thought that interpret the fall of man in Genesis 3 in a positive or idealized light, interpreting it not as an unhappy loss of our natural and proper condition as well as our right relationship to the One in whom we live and move and have our being, but as, instead, an appropriation of authentic existence or emancipated status, as a "fall upward" rather than downward. In rebelling against the "Thou shalt not" of God, according to this view, mankind comes of age, just as teenagers must inevitably rebel against their parents as an assertion of their own selfhood on the path from childhood to adulthood. And often enough these interpretations of Genesis 3 link the original sin with sex.

Wings of Desire doesn't exactly depict its angels rebelling against God, but it does suggest that in "falling" from their original state into a state in which they can lie and fornicate, they appropriate a more authentic or fulfilling mode of existence. And the angels are really us. This troubles me.

Even if we view the angels' fall in the most positive way possible, as a kind of honorable discharge for angels, I still find it difficult to view it as a positive thing. In my mind it seems comparable to the laicization of a priest. It's an honorable discharge, and a laicized priest is in good standing with the Church, but it's not what was envisioned at his ordination, and we don't think of it as a positive thing. It's not a tragedy the way a divorce is, but it's not a happy event like a wedding or an ordination either. Damiel was created by God to serve him eternally in the manner of angels; but Damiel found this unsatisfying and left the service. Alas.

Speaking of God, where is he in the experience of these angels? Either they don't experience his presence, or it doesn't seem to have any particular effect on them. They seem, in fact, a lot like angels as imagined by people who themselves lack faith in God.

Watching this film, I realize that this is the exact portrayal of angels against which in Godardian fashion I conceived my rebuttal angel movie idea. In fact, Wenders' film has the same contemplative, semi-linear, reverie sort of feel and approach that I always imagined for a film based on my idea. But the whole point of my film idea is to invest the concept of angels with an imaginative depiction of a positive mode of existence that is alien to us, that is inhuman, but is also strong, resolute, intriguing, and a bit frightening. That's the angel movie I would love to see. It's enough to make me want to try to go out and make it myself... but a body can only do so much in one lifetime. {C}smile.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

SDG, have you seen the American remake, City of Angels, starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan? I think it can be fascinating to compare and contrast the two films, since each reflects the biases and preoccupations of its respective continent in striking ways. The European film is more biblically informed and philosophical and stoic, whereas the American film is more biblically illiterate and religious and sentimental -- that sort of thing. Plus there is an abiding interest in the afterlife in the American film that is lacking, as I recall, from the European film.

SDG wrote:

: As most of you probably know, there are schools of thought that

: interpret the fall of man in Genesis 3 in a positive or idealized light,

: interpreting it not as an unhappy loss of our natural and proper condition

: as well as our right relationship to the One in whom we live and move

: and have our being, but as, instead, an appropriation of authentic

: existence or emancipated status, as a "fall upward" rather than

: downward. In rebelling against the "Thou shalt not" of God, according to

: this view, mankind comes of age, just as teenagers must inevitably rebel

: against their parents as an assertion of their own selfhood on the path

: from childhood to adulthood. And often enough these interpretations of

: Genesis 3 link the original sin with sex.

Of course, more traditional interpretations of Genesis 3 have linked the original sin with sex, too -- hence, in Michelangelo's artwork in the Sistine Chapel, Eve is in the middle of giving Adam a blowjob when the serpent appears.

6d-Fall.jpg

: Speaking of God, where is he in the experience of these angels?

Do they even mention him at all? I can't recall.

Have you seen Far Away, So Close too? That's the sequel to this film (and IIRC, Wings of Desire actually ends on a "to be continued..." kind of note -- what an amazing stroke of luck that the Berlin Wall should be torn down between the two films, thus giving Wim Wenders further opportunities to explore the metaphorical significance of that structure).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I have never viewed the film as taking the literality of the angels seriously. I see them as a device for giving us perspective on the human experience, and the way we walk around so blind to the invisible God and his involvement in our lives, but also blind to the visible manifestations of his glory.

The angels are, to a large extent, treated as fairy-tale versions of angels, I think. With their armor, their coats, etc. And the whole surprise about you-know-who being an angel... that just accentuates the fantasy aspect of it.

As for fallen... I didn't feel like Damiel was rebelling against God so much as making a free choice to experience... something that works only within the "rules" of this film. In the sequel, when Cassiel makes the shift, he is drawn more by sin, and he seriously falls. You can see the beginnings of that already in "Wings". Cassiel is deeply troubled, and dwells on negative things. Damiel is drawn by beauty.

This all hinges on the verse that references mysteries "into which angels long to look."

The long dialogue between Damiel and his human muse at the end catapults the story into an even higher level of surreality- - their conversation could clearly never take place as it does, but seems to represent a spiritual communion.

So Steve, I agree with your praise of the film, but I really don't get hung up on the details of these angels, because I felt they were an invention of whimsy used to see things with renewed vision and clarity, not a serious investigation into the endeavors of God's messengers.

I do think they reference God a few times, especially early in the film.

he expresses a longing to "lie through his teeth"

It is Cassiel, actually, who brings up the indulgence in evil. Damiel chuckles and nods, but he's far more interested in appreciating beauty. In the next film, their differences are further pronounced.

it seems that Ganz sleeps with his circus angel on the evening he meets her.

Well, yeah. But for what it's worth, though, they're married and have kids when we see them in the sequel. (I assume they're married, anyway. They have a family and a business.) Again, I feel that the coming together of Damiel and his true love is more in the realm of metaphor than the literal details of our daily lives. They become symbolic, not specific.

This film is a fantasy, the expression of an artist wrestling with questions, ideas, mysteries, and I think as it stands it is a rich and rewarding exploration. I would hate to discount it because the artist does not portray everyone behaving to the letter of reality's laws.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I don't discount it, exactly; but I'm troubled by it, and I'm prevented from appreciating it on the level I would like to because of my deep reservations.

The film has much wonder, humanity, sympathy, and even something of love and personhood. Does it have any real spirituality, any significant moral or religious component? Is anyone concerned about things like duty, fidelity, service? Is there any awareness or consideration of the presence of God? I agree that the film is worth seeing, but I also think it's necessary to watch it critically and cross-examine it for what it does and doesn't do.

Interesting what say about the sequel. Tell me more -- what does the movie do with Cassiel's fall?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Wow.

Tonight I sat down and watched the documentary that's on the DVD... interviews with Wenders, Ganz, Sander, and Falk. (Let's forget that Brad Silberling is on here. Just cuz he's a fan doesn't qualify him to talk about the movie. He wasn't there. Plus, he made that cheap American remake. Blech. Delete him.)

(Oh, and Mr. Silberling, if you're reading this, forgive my bluntness. But I really wish this film could have been preserved from the whole remake process.)

Anyway... the interviews are very revealing, full of humorous anecdotes, and revelations that made me go 'NO WAY.'

Like... Solveig learned to be a trapeze artist, real quick, in the few days before shooting began. NO WAY.

And cool points go to my wife for picking out the film's one major blooper.

:spoilers:

If the film's "celebrity ex-angel" is indeed an ex-angel, how can he be reminiscing about his grandmother in his first scene? Sure enough, in the interviews, Wenders admits the error.

Even cooler: There's an interactive map. You can click on various Berlin landmarks and see a short bit that teaches you about its history and how it came to play into the film. You also learn just how different those place are today, now that the wall is down.

DELETED SCENES! A lot of them... including that old dude who plays Homer clowning around. Apparently at the end of each shot, he would collapse, trusting his guardian angel (Otto Sander) to catch him. They show this happening. Hilarious.

And then, AN ALTERNATIVE ENDING, shown from all different angles, so you can download it into your film-editing software and create your own final cut. Fortunately, this alternate ending idea was never taken very seriously by the director. It would have completely changed the end of the film, launching it into another level of surreality. Trust me, though, you gotta see it. It is the most outrageous alternative ending I've ever seen. And fans of "Faraway So Close" will find it particularly intriguing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

...It's a world where divine beings don't want to be devine. Nearly all of the angels who are actually characters 'fall', turning their back on God. ...

Or is it, perhaps, a world where incorporeal beings yearn to become incarnate? Do they turn their back on God, or do they follow God into flesh?

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I believe it is clear in the film that the angels are not at all turning their back on God. They, like the angels of Scripture, are looking at mysteries "into which angels long to look." Damiel wants to rejuvenate his sense of awe and wonder, as I often do in my own faith. He wants to be limited, so that he can be surprised and cry "Oh and Ah!".

Cassiel, on the other hand, is curious about rebellion. I believe he truly chooses to be "fallen". But that story is then approached as a story of redemption, of his restoration to right relationship with God.

We have to take these angels as somewhat fantastical, whimsical inventions, not Scriptural angels, entirely. Wenders treats them as "guardian angels", the rather mythologized figures that have risen more from art than Scripture. He uses them as a device.

So, Ross, I see nothing at all immoral about the film. The angels are fantasy characters designed to teach us something, just as hobbits are designed to teach us about leaving behind our stuffy quant hobbit holes and learning to take our innocent childlike hearts out into the world to perform courageous acts where others who are not so stout-hearted would fail.

Wings of Desire has done more to stimulate my faith, to rejuvenate my delight in the Lord, than any film I've ever seen. If you think the angels are supposed to represent church (I don't see any evidence of that, but let's say you're right), then by all means... if church people have merely begun to go through the motions, saying "Amen" over and over, without caring to keep the fire of enthusiasm for God... the passion of faith and the struggle of engaging an ongoing relationship with God... then the church SHOULD be taking themselves out of their element, learning what it is like to live in faith all over again.

I never saw Damiel turn his back on God. He was so inspired by humankind, by those moments when humans looked up at God in wonder, that he wanted to re-experience that. And THAT is why Wings of Desire is so meaningful to me. The camera is cooperative in that very endeavor, guiding us to look at ordinary things and see them in extraordinary light.

My favorite moment in American Beauty (yes, I have one) is when the director guides our attention to that plastic bag dancing in a whirlwind. Okay, granted, he stole that very idea and footage from another movie, but still, it made its point beautifully.

Ultimately, the film is not about Angels, but about a City of Human Beings, in which there exists a wall, symbolized by the Berlin Wall. That wall is what separates men and women, and draws us together out of desire to know the Other. It symbolizes also the barrier between us and God. But ultimately it points to the idea that the wall is porous... that we CAN build bridges to the Other... we CAN connect with God, with the unseen. In fact, we do not need to do anything but look... God has done all the work. He is showing us himself all the time, for those with eyes to see.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I recently found the IMAGE Journal interview with Wim Wenders which touches on many things, including the two movies under discussion. Is that material old hat for people here, or should I post some of it?

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I'm on Ron and Jeffrey's side. (Good posts, guys.) Objections I've heard seem to be based on an overliteralism and a lack of imagination.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Post the Image stuff, Ron! I'd love to see it!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Jeffrey, where was the floating plastic bag in American Beauty(referred to in your post from yesterday) stolen from?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Okay, the points about becoming incarnate, or enjoying bodily pleasures more and philosophizing less (if that's what I can boil it down to) are well taken.

Also, I cede the point about it being a metaphor for any church anywhere (usually when people think something is a metaphor in a film they find that the director had no such idea in mind and are really dissapointed anyway).

But my main resentment still stands with this movie (and I do hate to criticize a movie that you found so uplifting, turly I do) and that is this:

That the spiritual world is one that is found to be devoid of any emotion. The angels seem, to me, to be listeners, or empathic leaches. The body's shown to be where it's all happening. 'Wouldn't it be great to bleed, to have sex, etc etc.' There is nothing noble or enviable about the spirit, it is something that must be escaped.

While this probably isn't the main thrust of the movie, it was, for me, the greatest stumbling block within it. I think that not enough people know spiritual joy and rely too much on bodily gratification as a substitute. For a movie discussing these themes, in a world of over-self-gratification, I believe it was a significant omision and even a detraction.

That's all.

But thanks, you've made me want to see them both again. Think I'll rent the DVD when I get the chance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

That the spiritual world is one that is found to be devoid of any emotion. The angels seem, to me, to be listeners, or empathic leaches.

Hmm... when a man has a motorcycle accident, they hurry to focus intently on comforting him. When a suicide jumper jumps, the spiritual despair of the man and his fatal decision are so sharp that even Cassiel, the one with curiosity about the dark side, cries out in agony and dismay to have lost one that he was trying to comfort. Damiel, watching children at play, and seeing that they are open enough to see him, is filled with delight and becomes childlike himself--he's so full of joy he finds it hard to sit still.

I encourage you to watch it again and let me know if they still strike you as emotionless or as leaches... I see them as full of emotion, doing good work, steering people back from the abyss wherever possible.

It is also worth noting that the man who impresses them most is Homer, the great storyteller, full of wisdom and conscience and sadness. These aren't angels preoccupied with lust or indulgence. They merely want a fuller experience of God, the way that humans experience Him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Okay, I'll say no more until I see it again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

I never saw Damiel turn his back on God. He was so inspired by humankind, by those moments when humans looked up at God in wonder, that he wanted to re-experience that. And THAT is why Wings of Desire is so meaningful to me. The camera is cooperative in that very endeavor, guiding us to look at ordinary things and see them in extraordinary light.

My favorite moment in American Beauty (yes, I have one) is when the director guides our attention to that plastic bag dancing in a whirlwind. Okay, granted, he stole that very idea and footage from another movie, but still, it made its point beautifully.

Ultimately, the film is not about Angels, but about a City of Human Beings, in which there exists a wall, symbolized by the Berlin Wall. That wall is what separates men and women, and draws us together out of desire to know the Other. It symbolizes also the barrier between us and God. But ultimately it points to the idea that the wall is porous... that we CAN build bridges to the Other... we CAN connect with God, with the unseen. In fact, we do not need to do anything but look... God has done all the work. He is showing us himself all the time, for those with eyes to see.

I like what you've said here, Jeffrey. The collateral reference to American Beauty is appropriate, I think, because I think this film does better and deeper what that film wanted to do thematically, which was to strip its characters down to the bone and show them the wonder and majesty that surrounds them in the people they see every day. Wenders does this by using the angels outside of humanity and one angel's yearnings in order to break through our malaise. We see the intricate emotional web that binds people together.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

The connection between American Beauty and Wings of Desire gets more interesting when we consider that in the shooting script, AND on the cutting room floor, existed an opening scene in which Mr. Burnham descends from heaven on wings and addresses the camera for his opening monologue as a Damiel-like angel. And come to think of it, he even resembles Damiel a bit at the end with his (annoyingly abrupt) transformation into a stoic and smilingly enlightened philosopher.

I was afraid if I mentioned that plastic bag sequence somebody would ask me where I got that info. Okay, I'll see if I can track down the story about that. Peter, do you remember anything about that?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

The short film that supposedly inspired the plastic bag sequence was Nathaniel Dorsky's "Variations." I don't know much beyond that.

Dale

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Here's a blurb from the Portland Mercury, a synopsis of a Nathaniel Dorsky film retrospective. (Apparently I over-stated by saying "stolen", but I still feel that it's unfair to give Sam Mendes credit for the sequence considering he bought it from someone else.)

Luminous Motion: the films of nathaniel dorsky

Remember the dancing plastic bag scene in American Beauty? That's Nathaniel Dorsky. The footage, which originally appears in the San Francisco avant-garde filmmaker's short, "Variations", was bought by the producers of American Beauty, and it is strangely beautiful moments like that one that make up Dorsky's three most recent films (Variations, Arbor Vitae, and Love's Remains). Tiny incidents of fleeting beauty suspended between nature and urbanity--light reflected through a gratified bus window, a cigarette butt on a rainy sidewalk--are silently juxtaposed and presented at a dreamlike 18 frames a second. The effect can be both lulling and ecstatically overwhelming, if you're patient. (Owen Ashworth)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited) · Report post

AlanW wrote:

: To keep this thread on its original topic, I have split off the discussion of

: Wings of Desire vs. its vastly superior follow-up, Faraway, So Close

As the board's unofficial thread cop, I must protest that you did not provide a link to the split-off discussion.

Ross Lawhead wrote:

: There is nothing noble or enviable about the spirit, it is something that

: must be escaped.

Hmmm. I don't think one "escapes" being a spirit when one becomes a human, but then, that's just my years of reading C.S. Lewis, and his notion that we are both animals and spirits, influencing me.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Hope you don't mind me digging a thread up but I just tyhought this yesterday and rather than risk the ire of Peter I thought I'd continue it.

I'd been drawn to this film by knowing how admired it was by people here and also that one Christian critic had called it a film to make you believe in God. And I guess perhaps this overhyoed it a bit as I was a tad disappointed eventho I liked it overall (altho not as much as the Nick Cave fan in our film group). A few points that you might be able to help with

1 - Does anyone know of other reviews of this - preferably their own, or classics?

2 - Ron you offered to post an article above but then never did. Any chance you could post it?

3 - :spoilers: I didn't realise that the Trapeze artist was also an Angel until I read the back of the box at the end, and then it kind of made sense. Were we meant to get this first time round, and is there even universal agreement on it?

4 - What was the deal with Homer. Again I didn't really get that he was Homer until the end-credits, tho I wondered why he was in on it

5 - I did notice the Falk error tho'. Bizarrely the back of the box made one of the strangest comments I've ever read in a film review - "Peter Falk gives an amazing performance as himself" - how's that work again?

6 - At the risk of exposing my ignorance (like I haven't done that several times already in this post) I couldn't work out which side of the Berlin wall it was being shot on, or even if it was only shot on one side of it. Can anyone help me out here? I'd have guessed primarily the East, but it was the 80s...

7 - Some of th other reviews I've read about this seem to think its primarily a meditation on Berlin, rather than the whole human / divine thing. Certainly that might explain the German titles "The Skies over Berlin", tho' not why it was dubbed "Wings of Desire".

8 - Definitely struck me as a film that would get better & better on repeated viewings. Am I right?

9 - Jeffrey. Elsewhere you talked about Peter Falk's big scene. Which one was this - I saw it but I missed it if you know what I mean.

Matt

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

At the very end of the latest Criterion Collection newsletter, there is a cartoonish sketch of the statue from Wings of Desire.

And a caption says, "This summer, bells will be ringing."

Wow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

As I mentioned over here, the new Dirty Projectors single "Stillness Is The Move" contains extensive lyrical references to the Peter Handke poem that opens the film.

Listen!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Link to the thread on the sequel, Faraway, So Close! (1993). We do not appear to have a thread on the remake, City of Angels (1998).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0