Wim Wenders Wings of Desire

It can’t possibly be 23 years ago that I saw this film in the theatres! How can life do this to a person?  Anyway, saw it again tonight on the big screen at the Arts Centre and want to share some responses. You can read a plot summary and lots of critiques elsewhere – in short, an existential tale of very secular angels overlooking Berlin in the days before the wall was torn down.

Here I’ll talk about two threads running through it that resonated on very deep personal levels.

I’d forgotten the ethereal soundtrack. Running throughout the film are interior voices of the people of Berlin, thought fragments that are captured by the angels, as if tuning in a radio across many channels. I sometimes have very vivid dreams, some of which stay with me for a lifetime. One of them is a striking dream I had in 1984-5 when I was teaching in China. In the dream, I was tuning into the thoughts of the people in Harbin in the middle of the night, just like tuning in a radio. The effect was just like the film, but that came out in 1987, several years after I returned from China, so I couldn’t have remembered the image from the movie. I think I was just on a similar wavelength with the vision of the film. Watching it tonight, I had the sense of re-experiencing that vivid dream. In reality, we inhabit the same space, and pick up snippets of other people’s lives through observation and random bits of conversation overheard as people walk past, thus connecting even when there is no direct communication. In the dream, this goes deeper, we are somehow witness to the very personal revelations of inner thoughts and dreams. We are like fish in the sea, responding to the same currents.

The other resonant thread that runs through the film is from the poem, in particular the line where the child muses on why he is one person and not another. This also connects with the previous image, doesn’t it?  But the specific articulation of this question led me to very philosophical musings in my early teens (maybe it is a childish thought, who knows – did you think this way as a child?). I had the same question, and decided that it was by pure chance that I’d been born into precisely this life and not someone else’s. This is great for developing empathy. I did a thought experiment and ran a little ‘test’ to check my preconceptions – if I imagined myself born into another life (different race, culture, or just another specific person’s shoes) and the preconceived ideas held up, then I thought they were pretty solid. If the preconceived ideas fell apart when I imagined myself in another person’s place, then I abandoned them. This was one of my most formative experiences, and I still hold true to this test.

I won’t tell you in what year I was in my early teens, but it was prior to the film 🙂

Anyway, perhaps the film could benefit from ‘judicious editing’ as someone put it, but I still found it beautiful and moving.