Wings of Desire (1987)
An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.
Visible only to those like them and to human children, Damiel and Cassiel are two angels, who have existed even before humankind. Along with several other angels, they currently wander around West Berlin, generally on their own, observing and preserving life, sometimes trying to provide comfort to the troubled, although those efforts are not always successful. Among those they are currently observing are: the cast and crew of a movie - a detective story set in WWII Nazi Germany - which include a sensitive and perceptive Peter Falk; an elderly man named Homer looking for eternal peace; and the troupe of a financially failing circus, which has closed early for the season because of those financial problems. One day, Damiel tells Cassiel that he wants to become human, to feel not only the sensory aspects of physical beings, but also emotional aspects. He embarks on this thought with the full realization that there is no turning back if he decides to do so. His thoughts are largely because he has fallen in love with Marion, the trapeze artist with the circus. If he does decide to become a human, there is no guarantee that as a human that he will be able to locate Marion or that she will return his affection. His angels, however, may be looking out for him.
Two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, observe life on Earth and the human condition. They've been doing this for a very long time and have seen both the best and the worse of mankind. Damiel wants nothing more that to be human - to feel, to touch, to smell, to have emotions. When his wish is granted he also learns that being human has its limitations that are in many ways no different than being immortal.
Eternal, invisible, but ever-watchful, the silent and compassionate angelic guardians, Damiel and Cassiel, turn their attention to the needy and the lonely of this world, soaring effortlessly over wall-divided Berlin's overcast skies. And then, unexpectedly, Damiel falls in love with the beautiful and mortal trapeze artist, Marion. Ready to trade his sacred wings for her--for the first time--the love-smitten angel begins to realise the insufferable burden of eternity, and his mournful lack of feelings, in a physical world overflowing with emotions. What is it like to touch, breathe, and live? Is a life on Earth better than a solitary existence in the sky?
This Wim Wenders film centers around the story of two angels wandering in a mixture of post-war and modern Berlin. Invisible to humans, they nevertheless give their help and comfort to all the lonely and depressed souls they meet. Finally, after many centuries, one of the angels becomes unhappy with his immortal state and wishes to become human in order to experience the joys of everyday life. He meets a circus acrobat and finds in her the fufillment of all his mortal desires. He also discovers that he is not alone in making this cross over, and that a purely spiritual experience is not enough to satisfy anyone.
- Note: This film was shot in black/white and color. The Angels cannot see color. Therefore, when the shot is from the angels' point of view, the shot is black and white, and when the shot is from a human point of view, it is in color. There is much poetic language used in this film that simply cannot be properly conveyed.
Damiel (Bruno Ganz) is writing on a paper, When the child was a child. He goes through a series of statements about when children were children: what they thought, how they acted, etc. Then, the opening credits appear. It fades to a scene of the sky, then a close-up of a human eye, then a bird's eye view of Berlin.
Damiel is looking over the city from atop a large statue. He has wings, but they disappear only a few seconds into the scene. He can hear the people below, but only the children can see him. There is a quick shot of a flapping wing, and then we see one man walking with a baby. While we see this, Damiel speaks about wanting to see color and feel alive.
We hear the thoughts of a woman on a bicycle. Damiel is on an airplane, passing through the aisle. He stops to see a little girl. Then, he focuses on Peter Falk (as himself). People's voices are heard.
Peter talks to himself about the writer's block he is having over his script. Peter speaks in English. A shot of Berlin is shown from the airplane's view. We hear various radio stations as we see the radio tower over Berlin. The camera pans into an apartment, and we hear various people's thoughts. Many of the things we hear are typical thoughts, or people's problems.
Again, Damiel starts to think, When the child was a child. This time he is wondering what children think about. We follow Damiel around his daily routine. First, we fly once more over the city, listening to an ambulance. Then we see the pregnant woman inside the ambulance. We hear the pregnant woman's thoughts. Then, we hear the thoughts of the people in the cars around the ambulance.
Damiel sits in a car with Cassiel (Otto Sander). They discuss their log books for the day. As Cassiel speaks, Damiel focuses on a couple embracing each other on the sidewalk. Damiel tells his works of the day to Cassiel. He says how wonderful it is to live for eternity and to hear people's spiritual thoughts. But, he wishes that he could live day by day, be greeted by strangers, and be able to say now, instead of eternity, to do things in pretense. All the wonderful things of living, even things like a fever and black fingers from reading the newspaper, are things that Damiel wants to experience. Then, woman on the sidewalk tells her husband about how she would like to own the convertible in which Damiel and Cassiel are sitting.
We move to the library, which is full of noise and full of people's thoughts. There are many other guardian angels there, looking over the shoulder of their selected people. The angels recognize each other and nod hello to one another. Damiel picks up a pencil in spirit, and carries it around with him. Cassiel watches Damiel from a distance. Damiel runs into an old man (Curt Bois). Even though he is old, he wants to tell his story again.
Damiel gets on the subway. He scans the people while hearing their thoughts. He sits down next to a man in dire straits. The man feels like life is no longer worth living. Damiel sits down next to him and touches his shoulder. Suddenly, the man's attitude changes and he is ready to solve his problems. He watches two children use a magnet to dig for change in the drain, and then goes to visit the traveling circus.
Marion (Solveig Dommartin) practices a new routine on the trapeze. The ringleader criticizes her, but Marion only complains about how difficult it is to perform with her feather wings on. She speaks French, but it is sometimes mingled with German.
The film suddenly turns from black and white to color, and we know that we are now watching from Marion's instead of Damiel's perspective. Marion swings on the trapeze. The film transfers back to black and white and a man comes in to say that the circus is broke and must pack up for the season. We hear Marion's thought that tonight is a full moon, the last night of her old performance. She thinks that a trapeze artist always breaks her neck on the night of the full moon. We hear Marion's deep thoughts about her unhappy disposition. She sits outside with her thoughts. She wants someone to love, and to love her, someone to depend on. When she was little, she wanted to live alone on an island, gloriously alone. She doesnt have an identity, and no where to go like a small animal in the forest.
She retires to her trailer and puts on a record. Marion sits on her bed as Damiel watches her. She asks herself what she should do now. She thinks about staying in Berlin. She thinks about her final night this evening. She thinks, I think as if I'm talking to someone else. Meanwhile, Damiel looks at the pictures on Marion's mirror. Marion starts to change her clothes. Damiel reaches over to touch her, but he can't because he is not human. Marion says she is looking for the will to love. The film turns to color as she puts on her robe. She juggles three apples, and laughs.
Back in b/w film, Damiel comes across a bridge to a motorcycle/car accident. A man sitting on the sidewalk has suffered from a concussion. Damiel holds the man's head, and talks to him. The man starts repeating what he says. Damiel gets up and walks away, and the man is still talking in the background. We hear another man's voice taking over the words of the other man as Damiel walks away. Damiel gets on the train. The voice continues as we see Damiel sitting on a statue overlooking Berlin once again.
Cassiel is standing over the old man in the library. The man is surrounded by globes, and he analyses the movement of the solar system. He talks about how the world is changing and fading into dusk. We see him look in a book and reminisce about the past. In the past, he looked up to the warriors and heroes, but now he just lives one day at a time. As the old man reminisces, we see real footage from after the war. Men and women are passing by the ruins in the street. Lots of pictures of dead people and babies on the street, all piled up one-by-one next to each other. Cassiel is looking over the old man's shoulder again. The old man wonders why we cannot just have peace but always war. If he gives up, mankind won't have a storyteller, and humans will forget their childhood.
Meanwhile, Damiel sits atop the large guardian angel sculpture monument. The old man walks through a desolate place on the East side of the Berlin wall. He reminisces about what once stood in those places. He is in disbelief that Potsdamer Platz once stood there. Then, he points out where the café Josti used to stand. As he reminisces, we see historical footage of the area. The footage cross-cuts back to the old man and Cassiel. He talks about how the times changed. The flags started appearing, the people or the police were no longer friendly. He will not stop telling his story until the Potsdamer Platz is found again. He sits down in an old chair in the middle of the desolate field, and scratches his head. The old man asks where are the heroes and the children, where are the ones that listen to his stories? We hear helicopters overhead.
The old man plays a little musical toy on a street corner. He smiles to himself, and is still reminiscing and looking back on what has happened to society. Cassiel is looking over a railroad and street from atop a building. He finds a young girl who is prostituting herself to escape from her family. She thinks to herself that she needs Klaus because he will take care of her. But, Klaus can't take care of her, she thinks, because he is dead.
A car pulls out of a garage. The driver thinks about how there are still so many borders everywhere. He drives through the streets with Cassiel in the car. The German people have divided into as many states as there are individuals, the man thinks to himself. He poetically talks about borders. Again we see real footage of cleanup after the war, from the perspective of a passenger in a car driving by. The driver thinks a little more about the difficult border that the people face today. He pulls into a center.
We hear Peter Falk talking from outside the car. He is telling a young boy about the new movie plot. They are making a movie about Hitler, and Peter asks the boy if the plot sounds plausible. A woman takes pictures, and Peter yells at her that they have enough pictures already. He complains to his assistant that he is wearing a dumb-looking hat. They go inside the old building where the movie is being filmed and dig through the hat bin to find the right look for him. He says that wants a hat that makes him look like an anonymous German. He tries on hats in front of a mirror on a movie set, while Cassiel is still watching him.
Damiel is also there, but he is watching from the second floor. After Peter Falk finds the right hat, we see all the extras sitting around. Peter compares himself to Columbo. Then, he thinks about dinner, and wonders whether Germans make a certain food or not. The angels look around the room, listening to people's thoughts. Damiel focuses on a woman who is thinking about the past. The scene changes to a historical film, showing the work of the Rubble Women cleaning up all the bricks after the war. She thinks about a house that was half destroyed. We see Damiel again, coming out of the reminiscence.
Peter comes up and asks the woman if he can draw her. She allows him. He sketches her, and thinks to himself about her face. He considers what the term "extra" implies; these people are extra people. The woman wonders if he will give her the picture. Peter focuses on his drawing once more.
The movie starts filming. Two men are fighting. Cassiel observes as Peter asks the director if the latter has time for an interview with a Berlin television station. The director tells the interviewers that he can do the interview now. Cassiel and Damiel are both listening to Peter's thoughts as he walks away.
Damiel says to Cassiel, "Come, I'll show you something else." They go to the traveling circus where Marion works. The audience is filled with children. A bunch of costumed people come out to entertain, and the little girl sitting next to Damiel keeps talking with him. Cassiel stands at the back of the tent observing. As the performance goes on, Damiel goes back to thinking, when the child was a child. He names several differences between what children do and what adults do.
The circus show continues with a man throwing flaming knives at Marion dressed in a cat suit. Then, Marion crawls up a rope. She does a few tricks on the rope before crawling back down. Balloons fall from the ceiling, and the children all enter the ring and play with the performers.
Damiel thinks about what it was like when time began, before the land was formed, and civilization began. We see several landscapes and beautiful nature scenes. For myriads of years only fish lived. Cassiel talks about the rest of creation. We see Damiel and Cassiel walking over a bridge next to the Wall. They talk about philosophical and spiritual things. They talk about the stories still continuing on.
Damiel talks about how he wants to create his own story on earth. He and Cassiel go through the Berlin Wall. He thinks about the simple things in life that he wishes to discover for himself.
Damiel and Cassiel walk down the street together. They come back to the movie set where Peter is. Peter is thinking about another drawing subject, and about his family and his career. There is a scene being shot in the background.
The old man is standing in the open field again. He thinks about how all the roads in Rome lead somewhere, but not in Berlin. There are hidden roads for storytelling in Berlin. Why can't everyone see from childhood these secret places? If they could, there would be a history without war.
Cassiel sits with a suicidal man atop the Mercedes building. He is contemplating jumping off, and the other people atop the building are trying to convince him to come down. He thinks about very random things such as what he is wearing and how the weather is. He also thinks about his love before jumping off of the skyscraper.
The next scene is in color. Peter is watching his own interview on TV. He is talking about the story of the new movie that they are filming.
Next we see the large angel sculpture, which then fades from color to black and white. Cassiel jumps off from atop the statues wings. The following sequences are fast-forward, blurry movements with the camera. Some of the shots have people in them. A couple is fighting in their apartment, and then we see a boy crying for his mother.
Next we see a montage of historical footage: World War II planes flying in the sky, machine guns, people fleeing, a fire breaking out, and a entire quarter going up in flames. We hear sirens in the background. The fire department is trying to put the fires out. A man sits at a pay phone, passed out.
Marion is in her trailer, getting ready for her last performance. She encourages herself as she looks into the mirror. Damiel is there watching her and listening to her thoughts. She thinks to herself, the trapeze artist always breaks her neck in a performance on the night of a full moon.
The last circus performance is underway. A man is performing a magic trick in the ring, while Damiel watches. Marion is upon her trapeze. Damiel stands in the ring and puts his hand on the ringleader. She performs on the trapeze. Despite a few minor scares, the performance is successful. Damiel walks through the camp after the performance. All of the circus workers are gathered around the fire, drinking and singing in French. Marion thinks about how she wishes to be happy for once.
Cassiel is sitting with a book in the library. The library is empty, except for the cleaning ladies and a few other angels.
Meanwhile, Marion goes to a concert. Damiel is still watching her. Marion dances in the audience. The singer sings an emotionally charged rock song. Cassiel is also there, on stage with the singer. Damiel is still fascinated with Marion. We hear Marion's thoughts. Once Damiel touches her, she feels an inner sense of well-being.
Cassiel looks into a laundromat where an immigrant woman is sitting, and thinking to herself in a foreign language. For a brief moment, the laundromat turns to color.
Marion is in bed sleeping. We see her, and then a flash of wings, then her again. Then, we see Damiel reaching out from heaven with wings and his armor on. Marion, also in the clouds, looks toward him. She begins to say, When the child was a child. She asks the same questions that Damiel asked in the beginning. Damiel is sleeping atop of Marion's chest. Their hands touch in heaven. Damiel gets up, and Marion awakes.
Cassiel is alone on a double-decker bus. Peter walks through a demolished muddy field. He is thinking about his Jewish grandmother. A group of young men walk by and ask each other if that is Columbo. Nah, they say, it couldn't be. Damiel meets Peter at a snack kiosk. Peter confronts Damiel, he says, I can't see you but I know you're here. The snack worker looks at Peter like he's crazy. Peter tells Damiel about the luxuries of living a mortal life.
Cassiel walks across a street near the Wall. Damiel and Cassiel meet in between the two walls in a military-controlled area. They speak. Damiel has decided to become human. He talks about what he is going to do when he first becomes human. He starts off with normal things, such as taking a bath. Soon, his list becomes more unattainable, until he says that the mayor is going to invite him into his car, and they will go for a drive together. The last thing he says is that he will understand every language--and that will be his first day! Cassiel looks at him and says that none of it will come true. They laugh. We look intently at Damiel's face, and the film changes to color. Damiel looks behind him, and his footsteps are visible, but not Cassiel's. Cassiel realizes that his good friend has become human. They are still standing in between the two Germanys in a guarded territory. Cassiel takes Damiel away.
Damiel wakes up on a street on the east side of the Wall. He is awoken by his bronze breastplate of armor falling on his head. He is very happy. Some little children stare at him and think he is drunk. They run away. Damiel gets up and walks away with his armor. He feels his head, and realizes that it is bleeding. He tastes it, and realizes it is blood. He is happy because now he begins to understand. He asks a passerby if that is red. They look at the wall and the stranger tells him the colors. He talks about the weather, and how he wants a coffee. The stranger gives him some change for a coffee. They go their separate ways.
Damiel crosses the street and finds a snack kiosk. He orders a coffee. He rubs his hands together because he is cold. When the child was a child, he thinks to himself about the things that kids do still happen today. Damiel is walking down the street as he thinks. He still has his armor in hand. He sells his armor at an antique store. When he gets out of the store, a little boy asks Damiel for directions. Damiel gives him a lengthy set of directions, and the little boy walks away confused.
Marion and the French circus are packing up. Damiel goes up to the gate where they are shooting Peter Falk's movie and is redirected to another gate. He is a little shocked that he couldn't just walk right in. He walks to the gate for the extras. They also deny his entrance, and he waits at the gate with the other fans. He yells to Peter, and Peter comes up to the gate to talk to him. Peter says he is glad to meet Damiel, but he expected a taller man. He tries to give Damiel money, and then tells him that he got ripped off on the price of the armor. Peter talks about how much he sold his armor for thirty years ago. Damiel is surprised to find that Falk is also a fallen angel. Peter gives Damiel a cigarette. Peter asks him what he is going to do, and Damiel tells him about Marion. Damiel wants to know more about life, but Peter encourages him to find every thing out for himself.
The circus is leaving. They are saying goodbye to Marion. She is standing alone in the middle of the empty field when they all drive away.
The film is back to black and white, and Cassiel is sleeping on the statue. He covers his ear and all the sounds of the city stop. Marion's thoughts chime in. She is confused about who she is and where she is taking her life. She is sitting in the middle of the ring. Cassiel is watching over her. The color comes back. She stands up and leaves.
Damiel is jogging to find Marion. He arrives at the place where the circus was to find it empty. He looks around, and is a disappointed. He sits down in the ring. A couple of kids ask Damiel what he is doing, and if he's okay. He ties one of the children's shoes, and tells them he's fine. They leave. Cassiel stands next to him. Through his thoughts he tells Cassiel that he will find her tonight, and something important is going to happen.
The film returns to color as Marion runs across the street. Damiel is coming up from the subway. He eats an apple, and watches Peter Falk on a storefront television. Marion stands at a snack kiosk. Falk shows up next to her. She says that he must know how to find people. He asks her if she is looking for somebody. She says that she doesn't know. Meanwhile, Cassiel is looking over their conversation in black and white. Peter knows that she is looking for a man, but she doesn't know anything about him. She says goodnight, and leaves. Cassiel still watches. Peter gives him the same speech that he gave Damiel, but Cassiel doesn't take the bait.
Marion walks down the street. Damiel walks down another street. He finds a poster of the band that Marion likes, and he goes to the concert. Marion is also at the concert. The performer is singing about the carnival leaving. Cassiel is standing next to the singer on stage. He is looking (in black and white) at Marion. Everyone claps. Cassiel listens to the thoughts of the singer. He thinks to himself that he is not going to tell the audience about the girl. As soon as he talks, though, he tells them about a girl.
Damiel makes his way slowly through the crowd. He takes a seat at the bar in the next room from the concert. Marion is still watching the singer. She decides to leave for the bar. Cassiel walks off the stage. He simply stands in the back, closing his eyes. Then, he turns and puts his head and hands on the wall.
Marion walks up next to Damiel at the bar. Damiel gets up and stands next to her. He hands her his drink. The song stops in the background. She sips the drink. He tries to get closer, and she stops him. It must finally become serious, she says. She talks about how she was often alone, but she never lived alone. Marion goes on a long monologue. Damiel gets closer.
Marion speaks: Now it's serious, finally it's becoming serious. In loneliness one is made whole. Tonight will she finally be alone, she says. Tonight is a new moon, a new moon of decision. We are now the times. We are two, but we are representing the people now. The whole place is full of people dreaming the same dream. And we are deciding everyone's game. I am ready. You hold the game in your hand. Damiel smiles at her. You need me, she says. There is no greater story than ours: that of a man and a woman; a story of new ancestors. Look at my eye, they are pictures of necessity. The future of everyone in the place. Last night, I dreamt of a stranger. Only with him could I be alone, open for him. And welcome him wholly to me, and we could share in happiness. I know that it's you.
We see the statue guardian angel statue once more. Damiel spots Marion as she practices her routine on a rope. Cassiel sits in a cloud of black and white on the stairs behind them. Damiel talks about the oneness of him and Marion. He says, who was who: it was true then and it is true now. I was in her, and she was around me. Who can claim this? I am together. I learned astonishment. She took me home, and I found home. It has happened one time, and therefore forever. First, the amazement of the two of us, man and woman brought me to being.
I know now... what no angel knows
Cassiel sits atop the statue. He hears the thoughts of the old man once more. Men, women, and children will search for him, their storyteller, he thinks to himself, because they need him--they need a storyteller.
The film ends with, "To be continued..."