Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Why Not Suicide? Reflections on Wenders’ Wings of Desire by Roger Orellana

Is humankind inherently bad? Even the most optimistic person cannot help but to build a melancholic attitude towards humankind, an almost tangible disappointment. Artists are exceptionally talented at evoking that question through art. Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout conveys the idea that some people are forever doomed to miscommunicate, consequently devastating any parties involved. Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away presents the tragedies that occur out of man’s incapability to love. What a shame, one must think, that this entire group which I belong to must be so destructive to itself. Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, although it is executed as a light-hearted comedy, nevertheless conveys the sad truth of the monster that capitalist man becomes because of his implacable sense of ownership. No, no one must be blamed for being ashamed and severely disillusioned by what has become (and truly, what always has been) of humanity. After viewing humanity tearing itself apart in such monstrous ways, one is placed in the tricky position of hopelessness. Indeed, one may conclude, humanity is a base and filthy thing. But even such claims can be welcomed with cold skepticism. Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is the antithesis to this general disillusionment of humanity evoked by the previous films. Wings of Desire is a celebration of the condition of being alive anytime and anywhere.

Once the film is over, the credits commemorate the dead. Wenders dedicated Wings of Desire to three monumental film directors: Yasujiro Ozu, Francois Truffaut, and Andrei Tarkovsky (Wenders 2:04:44). Ozu is one of those directors who teaches how to grow past imperfections and whose excellence is seen through making the simplest of stories into incredible cinematic masterpieces that celebrate life. Roger Ebert, in his film review of Tokyo Story, accurately describes the director: “Ozu is not only a great director but a great teacher, and after you know his films, a friend,” (Ebert, par. 4). Among the aforementioned directors is the great Truffaut, one of the titans of the French New Wave. He went from being a juvenile delinquent to one of the greatest directors in film history. His The Four-Hundred Blows (1959) rescued me from a time of tormenting pessimism by showing me that, although life can be especially hard even for a child, there is always hope for the future. Tarkovsky is a director who influenced so many and yet he refused to be influenced by previous filmmakers. Despite that, his films offer an incredible layer of complexity to life. Tarkovsky’s filmography is not the most cheerful, but it is undeniably beautiful and the images he creates are unforgettable. Andrei Rublev (1966) is an incredible example of Tarkovsky’s views, celebrating art in times of darkness and death. Wenders’ direct influence by those directors indicates a great deal about where his philosophies are oriented. There is a specific pattern in the conclusions of the films of Ozu, Truffaut, and Tarkovsky: they are generally optimistic and demonstrate hope for the future, despite also providing images tough to swallow. Wings of Desire follows that pattern. Wenders demonstrates the darkness that lurks in man’s life but concludes by choosing life over anything. Wenders’ dedication of Wings of Desire to the aforementioned directors indicates that he wishes to continue their legacy of celebrating life through motion pictures.

Wenders also celebrates life through the character of Damiel, the protagonist of Wings of Desire, who is an immortal angel who spends his time on tall skyscrapers observing the unfortunate heirs of the desolation of WWII, the poor Berliners. Damiel has the great luxury of living out of time, out of pain and consequently, out of suffering. Many men would give anything to possess such extraordinary privileges. Moreover, it is also evident that man is bound to the pattern of avoiding suffering and increasing his own happiness. What could be better than not having to worry about suffering? Damiel, the angel, the elevated creature that lives out of time, decides to shed his unique gifts to transform into a human. This would seem like a reversed metamorphosis, the superior creature becoming a lower version of itself, mortal and vulnerable. But Wenders states the opposite by demonstrating that life is worth living, and that it is not irrevocably lost to suffering. After Damiel falls in love, he is filled with an enormous longing for the small things in life. He longs to live as a mortal creature despite witnessing all the chaos and pain of life, because love is such a fulfilling and beautiful feeling, and man can love but an angel cannot. The ability to love, then, becomes man’s greatest gift and most extraordinary faculty, inciting the envy of creatures that are surcease of emotion. Thus, Damiel sheds his immortality to become mortal, feeble, but loving. Wenders concludes Wings of Desire by stating that the ability to love is the greatest gift of mankind, and that as long as there is love, there is nothing better than being alive.

Wenders celebrates life by telling the audience to become proactive and live. Cassiel and Damiel preserve and maintain reality by watching over Berlin before it was even Berlin. They are spectators, voyeurs that observe humans and their struggles. Cassiel and Damiel mimic the viewer of the film. Leigh Singer of the British Film Institute notes that “Ultimately, Wings of Desire is a visionary film about vision: the act of watching, with all its fascinations and limitations,” (Singer, par. 4). The angels, just as the movie-goer, are fascinated in many ways by human conflict, but at the same time are unable to intervene or do anything about the people they come to care about. This is why Cassiel is forever tormented by the man whose suicide he could not prevent. Damiel, however, breaks out of his state of spectatorship to have a place on earth and becomes a human. Damiel becomes proactive and as a consequence he learns to be amazed by the small yet incredible pleasures of everyday life. This transformation into proactiveness is Wenders’ way of calling the audience to action. Essentially, no matter how good cinema and books and our cellphones are, there is a world of life out there, and all the small things are worth experiencing. In this way, Wings of Desire becomes a celebration of life and all the joy that the small things can bring.

It is not uncommon to be severely disillusioned by life. But one can find solace in the fact that people like Wenders can celebrate the good side of life through art, thus persuading us that life is indeed worth living. After being spiritually broken by Walkabout, Swept Away, and The Gods Must Be Crazy, Wings of Desire is like molten gold that joins all the pieces together. Indeed, there are many films that end in an optimistic note, but it is an empty optimism. Wings of Desire ends beautifully by demonstrating that it is man’s capacity to love that make life worth living. I can think of only a handful of films that depict ideas as honest and beautiful as that. Much more can be said in praise of the film that would only repeat what other critics have already said. But this film is undeniably a gift.

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. “Tokyo Story Movie Review & Film Summary (1953) | Roger Ebert.”, 9 Nov. 2003,             1953.

Singer, Leigh. “Five Visual Themes in Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders' Immortal Film about             Watching.” British Film Institute,    visual-themes-wings-desire-immortal-film-about-watching.

Wings of Desire. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander. MGM, 1987. Film.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Equal Opportunity: This Campus Was Made for You and Me by Chelsea DeBarros

My first twenty minutes of college were going great.

I was chatting it up with my new acquaintances in their residence hall during student orientation week. As rapport built, I glanced around the room. First year students stood in clusters, grouped by what local high school they had attended. I did not recognize anyone; I was the only representative from Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens. All had blonde or brunette hair and blue eyes abounded---quite a shift from what I was used to. Everyone seemed to look, speak and act in the same way. With my brown skin and long, jet-black hair, I felt oddly intimidated, as if they were the white hunters and I was their dark prey.

I remembered an incident in my senior year of high school. In pursuit of financial assistance, I applied for a scholarship. Although all my West Indian friends and I did well on the interview, had high SAT scores and excellent GPAs, we were passed over. As they had done for many years the company only chose white students. This bitter memory of being seen as less than was “homeostasis upsetting,” and I flipped into a self-defense mode (Gordon, par. 2) based on FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. I did not know if my peers were biased against my background, but I did not want to create a barrier; I wanted to remain open. However, as more and more students shared their stories, I noticed the majority would be boarding. I dreaded telling them I was a commuter student. Was it my fear that they would view me as less serious or was it my own secret apprehension that as a commuter I would receive less of an education? Since I am the only Guyanese-American (with a Hindu mom and a Christian dad), would I be overlooked or unaccounted for in this university community? Unlike Woody Guthrie’s lyric, “This land was made for you and me,” I wondered if I belonged on the Hofstra campus. Little did I know at the time that the people in the Office of Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach (TOCSS&CO) would set me straight.

The process began with an introduction to my official commuter peer mentor and quite a role model. TOCSS&CO pairs peer mentors with students based on experience. For example, a transfer student will be placed with a current transfer student. Mentors are provided for students on the commuter track, transfer track, student access track and the global track. “Call me Chena,” Myrtchena Antonie said as she shook my hand (DeBarros). A senior and a proud woman of Caribbean descent, she showed me that as a person of color I was not an outcast but a part of something greater. Moreover, her encyclopedic knowledge of Hofstra’s many student services and multiple degree programs put my mind further at ease. When I told her that she was defeating my fear-based dual misperceptions of racial exclusion and that resident students receive more and commuting students receive less, she said, “We are all paying tuition to go here; there is no exclusion because we are all in the same boat” (DeBarros). In subsequent meetings I would come to learn just how academically, socially and civically engaged she has managed to become in her time at Hofstra.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg, one has reached the final stage of moral development when dignity, respect, justice, and equality are one’s guiding force behind one’s decisions in which “morality is based on the principles that transcend mutual benefit” (Kohlberg 1). To bring about my own change of mind and heart, I had to figure out how Chena achieved Kohlberg post-conventional moral levels 5 and 6. First, I acknowledged that I was limited in conventional level 4: I could take orders, follow rules and consider societal expectations. But Chena was able to think beyond the convention and communicate effectively with others regardless of their background, status or mindset. She had overcome any notion that she wassubordinate as a woman or as a person of non-white heritage. She recognized that social rules can be changed when it is necessary and inspired me to become more open minded and less defensive about those who are different from me. She helped me embrace the diversity of the Hofstra environment. When I learned that “research from the Carnegie Institute, Harvard and Stanford all reveal the same percentages for career success: 85% are people (soft) skills; only 15% are technical (hard) skills” (Gordon, par. 3), I realized that Chena combined these skills in a highly personal and compelling way. For proof, see her essay on Taking Giant Steps Press blog. The title alone, “What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of Walkabout & The Gods Must Be Crazy,” reveals her charming yet no-nonsense style.

As I grew these skills I soon learned that students may feel like outsiders for all kinds of concerns beyond color, gender and heritage, and that I have the power to help them feel more included. I also learned that many who commute often feel underrepresented because they do not board. Likewise, many resident students cannot call Hofstra their home because they are not comfortable here for myriad reasons. As Chena put it, “They don’t have a sense of belonging. That’s why we are here: to advocate for you, mentor you, and help you grow as a person so you can be your very best here at Hofstra” (DeBarros). I realized they guide and provide services for all students. I am truly grateful to Chena for her helping me unmask my issues and by modeling the change I needed to become, but I am equally grateful to Anita Ellis, who directs TOCSS&CO.

I first encountered her at Welcome Week. During the commuter presentation, Anita was engaging, funny, informative and very involved in making sure we have the necessary tools to make commuting life easier. After I met her for a one-on-one session, she was even more helpful and kind beyond my expectations; she became a friend. I often visit to see of the new events coming up or to just say hello. Her office is a place of community for commuting students, off-campus students and resident students because she provides a safe, supportive, and comfortable space for one to thrive. Anita makes sure that throughout the day, students can access free tea and coffee. After renovating the commuter lounge, she is in the process of adding comfortable couches for students to lounge around or study.

With a strong and improved sense of community comes new relationships. Chena stated, “My friends that I have met here at the commuting office have influenced me the most at Hofstra” (DeBarros). Developing friendships is crucial to becoming socially engaged. I can relate to Chena’s experience because I made new friends at the commuting office who now travel with me on the Long Island Rail Road. I have also been amazed at the number of resident students who face similar issues as commuters. In addition, regardless of housing status, TOCSS&CO gives students an opportunity to become members of the Commuters Student Association (CSA), in which students work with the commuting office to prepare events for the Hofstra calendar. These include tips on healthy diet as well as yoga and morning meditation. I always check with CSA to see what upcoming events I would like to be a part of. I follow them on social media and occasionally visit their web page to see what is new. Another program is Peer Mentoring, which has influenced me to become more involved in the HU community and caused me to want to become a mentor for incoming students. Anita states, “We encourage all of our students to integrate with their neighbors and attend our office programs” (Meet the Director). Her overall goal is to let students know that they are part of a community that will support them throughout their academic career by allowing them to become socially and civically involved.

Along with building community comes the opportunity to lend a helping hand. I have found that community service is a fun and meaningful way to become civically engaged and learn new life skills. TOCSS&CO hosts many annual community service events: Shake a Rake in which students rake leaves and help local community members; Nursing Home Bowling in which students assist senior residents of the Holly Patterson Nursing Home at the local bowling lanes; Pride, Paint, Plant in which students help the elderly plant flowers in their yard and paint their fences. Chena told me, “These events, which usually happen right around the community of Uniondale and Hempstead, are open to all students, residential included” (DeBarros). As Paulo Freire conveys, learning comes from first-hand experience: “Education as the practice of freedom---as opposed to education as the practice of domination---denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in the reflections with the world” (Freire 8). Simply put, knowledge is mostly gained from a learn-by-doing experience and “from learning about the people in your world, rather than learning about the world apart from them” (Parker, par. 4).

Perhaps the best thing about TOCSS&CO is its constant flow of valuable life skills. “Liberating education consists in act of cognition, not transferrals of information” (Friere 7). In order to be fully confident in my studies, I seek to acquire knowledge that reveals my full potential rather than just attain information that I will be tested on. Like Chena, I have found that “the commuter’s office is basically home for us” (DeBarros). Information is sent out via email, text and ads around campus. Chena noted, “It can be very difficult to get involved in the programs offered since commuters are constantly caught up in the run from home to school and don't have time to stop by the office. This is why we try to work around student schedules and make everything convenient for students. We stress communication, getting involved, taking part in the discussions and staying informed on what’s next” (DeBarros). On the more practical side, the office provides train schedules, shuttle schedules, free parking, lockers, information on commuter meal plans, tenant services for off-campus commuters, office programming, bulletin board information, car maintenance tips, transit tips, and FAQs.

Although Chena strikes me as someone who really knows what is going on, I was blown away to discover that during her first two years at Hofstra, she did not go to TOCSS&CO at all. She stated, “I did not do anything at school at all other than go to class” (DeBarros). She was caught in the fixed pattern of commuting to class and then returning home. She then addressed a problem that most of us students have. We do not reach out to the office as much they reach out to us. When asked how students can improve as learners, she said most emphatically, “We must improve our communication skills and lose the idea that seeking help or service is a bad thing” (DeBarros). By reaching out to her, I have become more independent, involved, and able to contribute to the Hofstra community. The Office of Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach has opened my mind, inspired me to be socially and civically involved, strengthened my academic skills and helped me become more well-rounded and better informed. I have come to find, like Woody Guthrie’s song, this campus was made for you and me.

Works Cited

Antonie, Myrtchena. Taking Giant Steps Press blog. “What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of Walkabout & The Gods Must Be Crazy.” 4 March.  2017,

DeBarros, Chelsea. “Interview with Commuter Peer Mentor Myrtchena Antonie.” 3 Oct. 2018.

Freire, Paulo. “The Banking Concept of Education.” PDF, 5 Nov. 2018

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. Class Syllabus. 10 Sep 2018.

Guthrie, Woody. “This Land Is Your Land.” The Asch Recordings, Vol.1. Feb. 1940

Hofstra University, “Meet the Commuting Student Services Director.”

Kohlberg, Lawrence. “The Stages of Moral Development.” PDF, 9 Oct. 2018

Parker, Morgan. Taking Giant Steps Press blog. “Gettin' Queer for Dope: Learning How To Learn about LGBT Identity,” 4Feb. 2016,