Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, Solveig Dommartin
Written by: Wim Wenders, Peter Handke
Directed by: Wim Wenders
France/West Germany, 1987
How good is this movie?
Angels moving invisibly among us, observing our lives, listening to our thoughts, offering compassion but unable to interact with us directly. It’s an intriguing idea, but might have made a better short than a feature film. There are certainly some beautiful sequences, but others drag on too long and become boring. And I don’t think much of the romantic arc.
How ace is this movie?
The movie is ambivalent about the sexuality of the angels. Being atemporal and non-corporeal, they clearly do not have sex, nor do they seem to have a sex drive. Instead, their interest is in humans generally. They obviously care about people, offering comfort to the sick and dying, and grieving for those in despair. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Damiel and Cassiel compare notes on the people they saw that day, taking pleasure in recounting the mundane acts of day-to-day life. Damiel wishes he could share in such acts, but he does not initially seem especially interested in sex.
Damiel does fall in love, but it is unclear whether this is primarily about his specific sexual desire for Marion or about his more general desire to experience a human relationship. On the one hand, he is clearly frustrated by his inability to connect with people, and intrigued by the idea of experiencing the world as they do. One of his decisive moments comes when Peter Falk tells him about the joy of everyday sensations, like drawing a line in pencil or rubbing your hands together. You could also argue that, unlike many of the other people Damiel encounters, Marion has a clear void in her life that he can fill by becoming her lover. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Marion is beautiful and athletic. Damiel first encounters her swinging sensuously on a trapeze, and he seems oddly intrigued by the sight of her undressing. Marion herself laments the absence of sexual love in her life, and seems to see it as the cause of her depression. The ending implies that, by becoming sexual partners, she and Damiel will give meaning to each other’s lives. Indeed, she even says, “There is no greater story than ours: man and woman” – pretty much the most heteronormative statement possible! And in Damiel’s final monologue, he describes sex with Marion like a spiritual experience.
Arguably, the point is Damiel choosing to be in the world, have a relationship, and experience temporal, physical sensations. The fact that the relationship is romantic and the sensations sexual is a mere detail. However, the fact remains that sex and romance are what the film highlights. Damiel could have entered into any other kind of relationship and discovered the joy of any other physical act. But the movie ends up being about a creature who has immortality, spiritual understanding, and love for all humanity, and decides that being in a heterosexual romance is preferable to all of them.
3 Stars; 2 Aces