‘Wings of Desire’ (1987) and The Benefits of Woke
The current era of left-wing woke fascism has become a new watch for Wim Wenders’ masterpiece wings of desire (1987) into something special.
We are all human, and as humans we tend to take things for granted. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Youth is wasted by youth, they say. I do not agree. The joy of being young is taking your youth and health for granted. Granting youth to someone jaded and experienced like me would be a waste. I wouldn’t trade those glorious decades I assumed I would live forever for anything in the world, and I wouldn’t deprive others of that pleasure.
Yet taking things for granted is both human nature and a curse, especially when one of the main keys to happiness is gratitude. Think about it… When you look at all the miserable people in our culture, they share one thing: ingratitude. They want-want-want… All they can do is want-want-want… They to want each to be what he is to want let them be. They to want money. They to want fame. They to want free college. They to want easy and accommodating life, and affirming.
And they don’t appreciate anything.
Even in the miracle of this bountiful culture of ours, where the poor live better than the pharaohs of old with air conditioning, iPhones, Netflix, central heating, refrigeration, hot and cold running water, ovens microwaves, cable TV and enough food to cause an obesity “crisis”, they don’t appreciate anything. Everything is taken for granted. Hence, their misery and their twisted need to make us miserable.
Losing something certainly helps us appreciate what we had…and that’s another curse. It takes wisdom, maturity and experience (sometimes terrible experience) to appreciate what you To instead had or what wanna. This is why you should call your parents now – now, why you should play with your dog now – now. And before they leave college on you, why you should revel in your grandchildren.
Hang up the phone and go for a walk. Risk a little boredom to appreciate the trees, the air, the way your neighborhood looks now – now, because one day you’ll be back there, and it will look very different, and you’ll wish you could Go back and take that walk again.
The first and only time I saw wings of desire, I didn’t like it. Twenty years ago, I found it a little dull, a little slow, a tad too intellectual. The love story worked, but the movie took its time getting there. Over an hour passed before the plot revealed itself. Nonetheless, something about the movie stuck with me, but I still didn’t enjoy it.
Last night I did.
If there is a finer love letter to the human race than wings of desireI have not seen it again.
Above the city of a still divided Berlin there are angels. They are not guardian angels (a claim I have always found absurd). They are more like observers. They are watching us. They listen to our thoughts and write them down. Although God is never mentioned (Wenders was a few years away from becoming a Christian), you can feel that these angels are part of the Lord’s omnipotence. Through them He knows everything, including our thoughts.
As stewards of God, like God, they do not intervene in the natural world. For example, an angel watches helplessly as a desperate man (whose last thought is of the woman he loves) leaps to his death. Another angel witnesses a man who succumbs to a motorcycle accident. The only thing these angels seem able (or willing) to do is place a comforting hand on our shoulder and nudge our thoughts to a better place… perhaps to what is already good within us? I don’t know, and I’m glad it’s not explained. It’s more satisfying to ponder, to wonder why an angel’s touch made the doomed motorcyclist’s thoughts go from blind panic to…
Leaf veins. The blown grass. The color of the stones. Pebbles on the creek bed. The white tablecloth outside. The dream of the house in the house. The dear asleep in the next room. Peaceful Sundays. The skyline. The light from the room in the garden. The night flight. Cycling without hands. The beautiful stranger. My father. My mother. My wife. My child.
As in real life, Wenders’ life in Berlin is infinitely mundane, the usual routine, and it’s here that Wenders spends most of his time and methodically lays down his cards in a way that weaves its way around. YOU. In the thoughts of these ordinary people, we expect to hear drama, darkness and evil – this is a movie, after all. We expect to meet adulterers, pedophiles, thieves, murderers. Instead, we hear the following from a man visiting his mother’s apartment after she passed away…
Still the same smell, only dustier. She collected everything. Commercial stamps, postcards. Even tickets. She never threw anything away. She just couldn’t. Mother, she was never my mother. My father… my father was my father. She is dead. No tears, no sorrow. May be later. God, I feel old. My sister is coming. I have to get out of here.
Elsewhere, a father worries about his son and how he feels about the boy…
My God, what will become of this boy? The music is all he has in his head. No, I can’t take it anymore. What more does he want? I already bought him a guitar. Now he also wants battery? It would cost a fortune. I’ve had it up to here. Will he ever come to his senses? I got it. This can not go on. This really needs to stop. I can’t accept this anymore.
The mother too…
Not surprising. He only learned rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe he’ll pull himself together one day. We can only hope
Here are the thoughts of a lonely, bright trapeze artist who finds out she’s out of a job tomorrow…
So it’s over. Not even a season. Again, no time to really go anywhere. My circus dreams – just memories ten years from now. Tonight is the last time I do my good old number. It is also the full moon “and the trapeze artist breaks her neck”. Be quiet! …And then I’m a waitress again.
Wenders understands that we humans are mostly good and that goodness turns us into a set of anxieties, worries, stresses, insecurities, questions about why we are here, and contradictions. as we try to find a way not only to do good but to control the dark corners of our thoughts. Above all, Wenders understands how these incessant anxieties overwhelm our heads, our entire beings, and undermine the endless pleasures of being human.
To bring us to reason, the director asks us to see ourselves through his angels, the immortals who have been there since the beginning, since the tide found the shore. These beings can fly… They never feel pain and never worry about making rent or cancer or a leaky roof… And yet they envy us. The very beings we exalt envy… We.
I’m not going to spoil one of the movie’s most satisfying reveals (you can spoil it yourself and watch the scene here), but most unexpectedly, we’re told the moral of the story through a human who was once an angel. This angel surrendered to the ravages of time thirty years ago and has no regrets:
Here, to smoke, have a coffee. And if you do it together, it’s fantastic. Or to draw: you know, you take a pencil and you draw a dark line, then you draw a light line and together it’s a good line. Or when your hands are cold, you rub them against each other, you see, it’s good, it feels good! There are so many good things.
Our protagonist is an angel named Damiel (the late great Bruno Ganz). He has seen the best and the worst in humanity and still aspires to be us:
[I]It would be kind of nice to come home after a long day feeding the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackened fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not just in spirit but, well, by a meal, by the line of a neck by an ear. Lie! Between the teeth. As you walk, feel your bones move. Finally guessing, instead of always knowing.
More importantly, he wants this:
I would like, with each step, with each gust of wind, to be able to say “Now. Now and now”, and no longer “forever” and “for eternity”.
And after Damiel becomes human, he is looking for this:
First, I’m going to take a bath. Then I will be shaved by a Turkish barber who will massage me right down to my fingertips. Then I’ll buy a newspaper and read it from the headlines to the horoscope. On the first day, I will be expected…
Yes, there is a love story, a beautiful and moving one, but nowhere near as beautiful as the reminder – angels, no less – that we have so much to be grateful for and that in gratitude, the key to happiness is found.
wings of desire doesn’t tell us to reach for the stars or chase our dreams, or do anything but enjoy life as it is, as we’re living it right now. And all I can say is Amen.
Can you imagine a film like this being shot today? A film that teaches us to appreciate the human instead of presenting ourselves as a disease and a parasite…? A film that says that the love between a man who wants to support and protect a woman who feels empty and alone without a man is a blessing and not sexist and regressive?
Earlier when I wrote about not appreciating what you have, that’s what I was trying to say…. I’ve always loved and enjoyed movies, but one of the benefits of this era of anti-art, anti-human revival is an even stronger appreciation for the cinematic humanism that I once took for granted.
There are so many good things.
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