Wings of Desire
(Der Himmel über Berlin)
We must decide to be human. In the People’s Square, before a great crowd of witnesses and in representing them, we must make the decision to be wholly human. Wim Wenders’ wonderful and dreamlike 1987 fantasy, Der Himmel über Berlin, portrays two angels observing the people of a divided Berlin.
As the camera floats freely above East and West Berlin, Wenders allows the angels to listen in on the thoughts of those around them, eavesdropping on the hidden conversations we all hold with ourselves. This soundtrack creates a kind of music all its own, as the German and French and English roll on in layers over the rich black and white imagery.
The angels Damiel and Cassiel report back to each other their observations and interactions with those around them. Damiel, enthralled with the humanness of existence, begins to consider exchanging his spiritual life for mortal flesh. Cassiel, stark and reserved, urges his compatriot to hold himself in angelic ranks. Yet two mortals speak more compellingly to Damiel’s longing than do Cassiel’s pleas. Marion, a circus acrobat, and Peter Falk, in Berlin for a film shoot, both ignite Damiel’s fascination and, more importantly, his imagination.
With that, he steps into mortal shoes. Wenders shifts from black and white to color film, from one side of the Wall to the other, and vibrant tones leap off the screen. The effect is not unlike a child opening a box of Crayolas and transforming a blank page into a canvas of brilliant color. A refreshing, new day dawns as Damiel seeks out both Falk and Marion, embarking on a journey of wholeness, in the unification of spirit and flesh. And Cassiel, still in his black and white, now watches him.