Wings of Desire, known for its romance and fantasy was produced by Wim Wenders in 1987 revolving around two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, observing life on humans on Earth and their thoughts. Throughout the film, many emotions are evoked. With Damiel craving to have the senses of a human — smell, touch, hear, taste, and feel, he sacrifices his immortality and wings to explore life as a human. The film consists of several themes, offering different kinds of perspective for the audience to perceive and wonder. Evidently, desire is shown through Damiel’s infatuation with a trapeze artist, Marian alongside the theme of identity and how it leads to ‘human experience’.
Desire, the inevitable theme that permeates the film ultimately leading to the decision to sacrifice his immortality to be human to experience love. Marion in a sense is similar to Damiel as she continues to pursue her passion, wanting to perform her craft despite it being the last performance at the circus. In essence, her love for being a trapeze artist falls short enable Damiel to hear her internal thoughts, intriguing him how it feels to experience love and empathy. For instance, when Damiel picks up a rock placed on Marion table, there is a clear juxtaposition of the two being in different worlds. This also occurs when Cassiel picks up a pen in the library but does not encapsulate the same curiosity when contrasted to Damiel’s encounter. Damiel differs from Cassiel’s in the sense that Cassiel lacks interest in human affairs. This constitutes to Cassiel’s incapability to comprehend why Damiel is willing to enter a ‘different realm’ to connect with Marion.
The first time the audience alludes to Damiel’s desire is during the scene where he observes Marion and colour is presented in the film. During this shot, the scene shifts from a monotone gradient into a vibrant and warm background, symbolising the warmth one feels from experiencing love. The second instance of the occurrence is when Marion conveys her feelings towards Damiel and how she was “waiting for [him]”, similarly due to love. Moreover, the attire that Marion wears is bright red, depicting the connection that red is linked to — passion, love and desire, everything Marion felt on that night when she met Damiel.
In addition, with the film illustrating how Damiel and Cassiel observe human interactions they inevitably cultivating an appreciation for the underlying aspects of humanity. Since the angels are capable of eavesdropping, they hear the thoughts of fears, dreams, insecurities, and desires, teaching the angels “[how] to speak”. This indicates that by learning the language of humans and the methods of communication, the angels can communicate with others just like a human, learning from them. “He seemed free, and we could laugh with him,” overtime, the angels develop several emotions such as sympathy, pity, a bit of joy and evidently love.
With the angel’s existence depending on humans, Damiel, in particular, realises the melancholy reality of existence leading to the desire of ‘human experience’. Deciding he has been “absent long enough, long enough out of the world”, Damiel wants to embark on an expedition to experience warmth, love, pain, and smell. With the use of intellectual montage, we can see that Damiel is filled with joy simply by how he has attained the capability to experience physical warmth.
Damiel and Cassiel reminisce about their time throughout history during the scene with the two on the bridge. The bridge that was featured in the scene could be used as a metaphor to symbolise the barrier between the realm of angels and human as Damiel states that he “wants to conquer history himself”, leading to desire after finding beauty in the mundane. The angel’s dependence on human interaction and activities eventually leads Damiel to sacrifice his immortality and descend to the human world.
Perhaps the reason why angels are visible to children is that adults lack a sense of identity. As children mature, they develop into adults, falling into the trap of society’s expectations, searching for acceptance of others. Wim Wenders shows the contrast that when “the child was a child” everything “was full of life”, depicting that adults live in the harsh and mundane reality, with the quest of endlessly searching for identity. In Marion’s instance, her identity was attributed to her passion as a trapeze artist so when she lost her occupation, she started to have contemplated “who she was”. This signifies how “[she’s] a little animal lost in the woods” as her perception of identity was gone temporarily.
Moreover, as Marion was no longer a trapeze artist, she had lost her “wings”, symbolising her detachment from her identity. The wings could have also represented her desire to fly and search for love. After meeting Damiel outside the concert, her passion remerged, possibly indicating that love is another factor that attributes to one’s personality. As Damiel assists Marion towards the end of the film, there is no attachment of wings to her back this time, hinting that her search for love has been found and her identity has been established.
Despite the lack of a well-defined plot in Wings of Desire, it was definitely an intriguing film based on the mundane experiences of angels, influencing not only Damiel but also ‘der filmstar’ to pay the ultimate price to become human — their immortality. Homer’s thoughts on how “once mankind loses its storyteller, it loses its childhood”, signifying that only children can live with a worth of self-identity. Wender has cleverly utilised colour to the advantage of this film, with the first glimpse of colour in the scene of Marion on the trapeze, perceived through the eyes of Damiel. Despite this short duration of colour, it is foreshadowed that Damiel’s desire to love exists, with the colour symbolising how Marion made him experience romantic emotions.