Two Faces of Desire
Wings of Desire, a “A beautiful, literate and romantic piece of cinema.” * Wilm Wender’s expression of countless themes throughout the film shows his multifaceted in-depth way of thinking. It is clear Wilm Wender’s creative decisions act to enhance various themes and diminish others. Yet, when watching the movie one theme stood the test of time. It displayed itself constantly as the backbone of the plot the movie is created upon. For many, this theme is all too common, it drives our actions in ways that can result in anywhere from a beautiful experience to self destruction. Desire is arguably the strongest emotion one can feel; and in a society where success is a common goal, desire is a vital motivation.
In the first scene where we are shown Damiel for the first time. It is a medium shot with a large focus placed onto Damiel’s wings, that being the centre of the shot. His body language is solemn and stiff, observing what appears to be the West Berlin streets below.
The lighting and colour utilises the monochromatic theme of the movie. While the contrast between his black trench coat and white wings act to express the clashing nature of the two. This difference being the exchange of normality vs extraordinary.
This scene’s importance speaks for many reasons, one of which being the way that it interacts with the film’s title. Wings of Desire may be clear in it’s face-value suggestion. But the hidden connotations behind the word choice allows understanding of Wilm Wenders thoughts prior to the beginning of the movie. Highlighting the word Wings, Wenders used the most defining feature of an angel. Their wings in combination with their bodies shows their similarities to humans, but with an addition of ascension.
Desire for Humanity
These features of an angel are testament to their fantastical existence at all, but as shown in the scene with Peter Falk, their weaknesses are highlighted. He shows trivial things that would not occupy a moment in our minds, things like rubbing your hands together, or drawing a line. He speaks of how “good” it feels to perform these acts and Damiel stands observing, like all angels do.
Personally, what fascinated me about this scene so much was the idea that actions that all of us perform but never question are so interesting to Damiel. I recall, while watching this film many of my classmates rubbing their hands in a similar fashion. I remember doing it myself and thinking about the feeling, and the small generation of heat onto my hands, the quick sound of skin on skin. And for us, as inconsequential as they are, we can almost say that this is what really tipped the scales in terms of Damiel’s want to become mortal.
He begins to desire a facet of life away from just observing, but rather living and experiencing human nature.
This shot utilises a waist-up view in which Peter Falk and Damiel are stood close together. The shopkeeper is kept towards the back wearing white to differentiate himself from the two main characters of the scene. Their placement, being very close together is a demonstration of the spirtitual bond that they also hold. Peter’s monologue in this scene allows us to connect with him, as while the shopkeeper may question the sanity of him, we are able to understand his speech. Falk, and us viewers are the only ones who are able to perceive the existence of angels in this film, giving us a sublimial attachment to him.
Following this scene, we see a large shift on Damiel’s behaviour, it is almost as if his desire to become mortal was validated. He begins to explore and more importantly begins to seriously contemplate whether it is worth giving his angelic being up.
Peter Falk’s understanding is uncanny, and in the scenes immediately following Damiel’s transition to a human that the feelings that we take for granted everyday, contribute to us being human.
In a disgusting act to many, Damiel tastes his own blood that had come from a spot on his skull. He remarks “tasty” and looks joyful. However, while we may find what he did revolting, it was his first time feeling the sense of taste.
Taste, which is given to us from the 10,000 or so taste buds that line our tongue and mouth, is one of the most important senses one can feel. Damiel craved this, angels had no requirement to eat, no ability to feel the sweet embrace of a chocolate bar. Upon finally enjoying it he looks euphoric.
As Damiel experiences all the senses there is evidence that he has no question upon his choice to become human, all the years as an angel have starved him, left him quenched of the 5 senses. However, emotionally he too is starved, and thus, his want and chase for love is a key benefactor of his transition.
Desire for Love
For the reason that Damiel wants to become a man we know why. While observing, Damiel begins to unravel and understand the life of the trapeze artist Marion, and soon enough becomes infatuated with her. He becomes invested in her, understanding her feelings and worries. Her beauty controls him and he wants to become her man.
This spark is a direct causation of her beauty that Damiel sees, the camera shots in this act enhance the viewers understanding through being given point-of-view shot.
In an interview with Wilm Wenders where he was asked why we see these type of shots. He gave this answer.
The point-of-view is passed on to the audience. They first think this is what Damiel is seeing and all of a sudden it’s what they are seeing. That was always the thing I tried to do: to pass on the p.o.v. to the audience.
The reasoning behind this is obvious, we are encouraged to see what he sees, feel what he feels, experience what he experiences all building our rapport for Damiel.
It is a veteran film-tactic used in countless films such as The Terminator, or Vertigo.
Of the latter, the usage of this point-of-view theme is prevalent in truly getting the viewer engaged. In the above shot, a feeling of vertigo is felt caused by the multitude of stairs and distance from the bottom of the floor. The slight RGB discolouration and blurred curves add to this effect.
Another key aspect of the film is the use of colour, or the lack thereof. The first instance we see of colour in the whole of the film is the shot below.
This is where Marion is putting on her dressing gown, the implication of this scene is that Damiel is viewing Marion with a sense of reverence, her bare body sat on top of her bed.
Once again, we are given this point-of-view scene but with colour. The sudden burst of clarity from the monotony of colour for the previous 30 minutes of the film means that attention is drawn.
The thought of this scene as a whole, a naked woman in her caravan in a cold-war era West Berlin. Observed by a heavenly angel who has fallen for her. A bleak outlook on life, contrasted with the colour and excitement brought by desire. It speaks volumes on the power of that uncontrollable emotion, the pheremones radiating out causing weakness in even those who are untouchable (physically and emotionally). The burst of colour given off by the multi-coloured abstract curtains and the abundance of books and hanging decor was purposefully used by Wenders to demonstrate a feeling of life and humanity. For what is life without colour, how else would we enjoy the pleasures of screenplay or bright green shades that lay across football pitches.
The colour is a metaphor for the beautiful thing, love. In this scene it shows Damiel’s commitment to her and to his own conscious existence. He is in love.
So what does Wenders say about Desire?
Throughout the movie his choice of camera technique and filmaking methods show his commitment to the belief that desire is uncontrollable and raw. He speaks to us of how the desire to become human and the desire that Damiel feels for the love of Marion both clouds his judgement and leads him to life. It gives him purpose and reason to live.
One day, when Damiel’s eternal life comes to an end, he will know what led him there, but after all it may have been worth it.