Monday, June 19, 2017

Wim Wenders’ WINGS OF DESIRE: A Reason to Believe by Monica Boretsky

To persevere: to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly (Bastida). 

The films presented in our writing class provide one with reasons to become indignant with the outcome Western civilization has on the lifestyle of its citizens. In Walkabout Nicolas Roeg exposes the ignorance and self-centeredness it instills in a person; in The Gods Must Be Crazy Jamie Uys shows that the desire for possessions can consume one’s life; in Swept Away Lina Wertmuller demonstrates the inability for one to love another outside the predetermined qualities defined by society. Viewers become witnesses to the destruction caused by these traits and habits of life in Western civilization. Wim Wenders, however, provides a different approach, in Wings of Desire. Although he, too, reveals the defeating aspects of our over-civilized society by focusing on Berlin divided by a wall, he provides a reason to believe in civilization as well. Through Damiel’s experience of becoming human, one is reminded of the beauty of life that one may experience through love. 

As a living inheritor of Western culture, I was appalled at how the characters in these films take things for granted.  The older sister of Walkabout and Raffaella of Swept Away both live in the luxury of a wealthy lifestyle. In this life, they do not bear the weight of personally putting in any labor to obtain what they want in life. Both of them lack the appreciation for those who do put in the effort.  In Walkabout, the older sister says condescendingly to the Aborigine, We want water to drink. You must understand! Anyone can understand that. We want to drink. I can't make it any simpler” (Roeg, 27:18). Her ignorance is mirrored in Raffaella when she speaks to those serving her on the yacht in a demeaning tone. One morning she says, “I like having my coffee fresh if you could understand that. The bad habits of a typical grubby southern slob” (Wertmuller, 00:08:32). While these characters expect the world to rotate around them, Wings of Desire reminds us of life’s small pleasures that have become so second nature to us that we forget to appreciate them. When angel Damiel becomes human and smokes a cigarette for the first time, he has a visible reaction of joy and contentment. His face eases up and clearly experiences the full sensation that many people have overlooked (Wenders, 1:42:00).  This little moment of the film is greatly representational of our own dilemmas. Not only do we shut down these small pleasures, but Wings of Desire also shows us the possibilities available when we break down the divides set up by Western civilization.      

Walkabout and Swept Away display two relationships in which the partners come from different sides of the money and power equation. According to societal standards, the two women are the most prized in society. The men who attempt to have a loving connection with them ultimately face self-destruction. The Aborigine commits suicide (Roeg, 1:52:34) and Gennarino leaves his family for a life of loneliness and shame. In a monotone voice, with the sense of defeat he says to his wife, “Don’t worry about it, I’m not ever going home again” (Wertmuller, 1:51:12).  Both of these relationships were halted and ended due to the stigma that society set in place.  The English older sister of Walkabout could not accept the offer of the Aborigine through his mating dance (Roeg, 1:48:25).  Raffaella, despite confessing her love to Gennarino on the island, did not leave her wealthy capitalist husband ooce she returned to the mainland(1:38:00). These two films prove that the social constructs of society are a plague to the value of love. The divides are strongly built and could not be broken down in these films to allow a loving connection to exist.  Wenders, however, shows a more optimistic approach to love---one in which the divide set by society between the two partners did not keep them apart. 

Wings of Desire demonstrates the many divides that are embedded deeply in society.  Set in Germany, there is the line separating West and East Berlin. There is another line separating circus people (traveling performers) and village people (average citizens). The most distinct difference found in this film is the divide created between angels and humans. While this may be called fanciful, Wenders makes the case that love is bigger than the social rules that divide us. Angel Damiel confronts the fact that he is in love with human Marion. Unlike the older sister and Raffaella, however, Damiel does not give into abiding by the divide, and pursues a relationship with her.  Their connection is successful and meaningful.  As Michael Sexson states in his review of the film, Marion, “Indeed… is teaching Damiel what he needs to know. Here the child's puddle is becoming the sea” (Sexson, para. 17).  Their relationship is one of true love and, “the fact that she meets the person literally from her dreams gives hope to the viewer of how the joining of two individual to make both their dreams come true” (Hannanian para. 7).  They return each other back to the childhood innocence that Wenders warns his viewers not to lose.

It is clear throughout the film that only the children in society are able to witness the presence of Damiel and his fellow angels; the adults cannot. Angels are representative of innocence, and so Wenders is making a strong point about the innocence of one’s childhood.  This sense of innocence is lost through the progression of existing in Western civilization.  This mirrors the idea present in Walkabout:

It is particularly eye opening to see the six-year-old boy begin speaking the Aborigine language, clearly embracing what his older sister cannot.  Both of them have grown up in civilization, however the sister has been living in it a full eight years longer than the boy…Roeg warns his viewers that the older one becomes and the more time one spends in Western civilization, the less apt they will be to understand the whole picture: an individual is larger than the society they grew up in and a difference in cultures does not make someone lesser than another (Boretsky). 

As one progresses through Western civilization, one loses one’s childhood innocence. Wenders delivers to viewers the harsh reality that is present in the world, depicted in the opening scenes of the film: passengers on a train bombarded by their anxious thoughts, fearful responsibilities and of a man committing suicide. Despite demonstrating this, Wenders presents Damiel as an example of staying strong through the bad to experience and embrace the good that life has to offer. This angel has seen these evil pressures of society that sometimes get the best of us, but he continues to pursue becoming a human. When rationalizing his desire, he claims, “To conquer a history for myself.  What my timeless downward look has taught me… I want to transmute, I want to sustain a glance… a short shout, a sour smell.  I’ve been outside long enough.  Loving enough out of the world. Let me enter the history of the world.  Or just hold an apple in my hand” (Wenders, 1:14).  He understands and appreciates the value of Western civilization and sees the opportunities it provides its citizens.  For him, it gave him the experience of sensations like taste and pain, as well as the gift of love. 

In the end, Damiel is each of us stuck in a limiting version of Western civilization. Like him, we must not be afraid to transform ourselves and must persevere in order to find love, success and happiness. We must not let obstacles constructed by society keep us from obtaining what we want.  Unlike the other characters in previous films viewed this semester, he transcended the divide keeping him from what he desired. Breaking through resulted in the realization of experiencing all the good Western civilization has to offer, things that many often overlook. Wim Wenders reminds his audience to never stop appreciating the small things in life and to not give up when there is an obstacle in our path to obtaining what we want.  In short, we should strive to embody the spirit of Damiel, who encompasses appreciation and optimism, when living within Western civilization. 

                                             Works Cited

Bastida, Maria. "Top 60 Perseverance Quotes." LoveQuotesMessages. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Boretsky, Monica.  “Blinded by the Status Quo.”  06 March 2017.

Hannanian, Ariel. "Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders." Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders’ "Wings of Desire". Taking Giant Steps. Web. 03 May 2017.

Jamie Uys.  The Gods Must Be Crazy. New Realm, 1980. Youtube.

Lina Wertmüller.  Swept Away--by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August. Perf. Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. Medusa Distribuzione S.R.L., 1974. Youtube.

Nicolas Roeg.  Walkabout. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Youtube.

Sexson, Michael. "The Storyteller and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (The Cresset, March 1993)." Header. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Wim Wenders.  Wings of Desire. Perf. Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin. Road Movies, 1987


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