Wings of Desire, 1987

Wim Wender’s deliberately paced, hauntingly realized contemporary masterpiece, Wings of Desire is, all at once: a political allegory for the reunification of Germany, an existential parable on a soul’s search for connection, a metaphor for the conflict between, what Friedrich Nietzsche defines as, the Appolinian intellect and the Dionysian passion, a euphemism for creation. A dispassionate angel stands atop a statue on a winter morning, watching over Berlin. His name is Damiel (Bruno Ganz): a spiritual guide for the desperate, an eternal spectator of life. The world is gray through his eyes, unable to experience the subtlety of the hues and textures of physical being. He spends eternity exchanging daily observations, listening to the people’s thoughts, comforting the dying. He reveals to a fellow angel, Cassiel (Otto Sander), that he is curious to experience life as a human. One day, while observing a circus rehearsal, he is captivated by Marion, a French trapeze artist practicing her routine in an angel costume. Receiving the news that the circus is closing, she feels profoundly alone, but is consoled by Damiel’s empathic presence. He falls in love with her: her grace, passion, melancholy. They are kindred spirits longing to find an inextricable part of their soul that is missing. If Damiel can transfigure, perhaps he can fill the void.

Wenders manifests the recurrent theme of division through long camera shots, filmed downward. Note the the opening scene of the statue, the suicide leap from a building, and Marion’s rehearsal. In essence, Damiel is the Apollinian force: pensive, logical, and spiritual. (Note the contrast to Federico Fellini, who uses upward shots in order to symbolize the carnal man seeking spirituality.) Division is also depicted when Cassiel follows a disoriented, elderly man against the backdrop of a prominent Berlin Wall. Cinematically, the angels’ perspective is in black and white, while human perspective is shot in color, creating visual duality. Note the chromatic shift in Marion’s trailer after Damiel disappears. She is the archetypal Dionysian force: sensual, risk-taker, dreamer. Nietzsche proposes that the cataclysmic fusion of the two diametrically opposed forces results in the birth of tragedy. In the end, we see Damiel looking upward at Marion, holding her safety line. He is no longer an immortal chronicler of history. He, like the epic heroes of Greek mythology, has fallen.

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