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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Der Himmel über Berlin

Wings of Desire (1987) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Wings of Desire” opens with an angel writing in his journal: “Als das kind kin wor, wus le es ui clef, doss es kind, wor …

When the child was a child, it was the time of these questions. Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn't life under the sun just a dream? Isn't what I see, hear, and smell just the mirage of a world before the world? Does evil actually exist, and are there people who are really evil? How can it be that I, who am I, wasn't before I was, and that sometime I, the one I am, no longer will be the one I am?

A view of billowing clouds gives way to a single eye and then to a roving helicopter shot of Berlin. The city is in black and white (B&W) as viewed by an angel-man. We come down to a plane, then to a radio tower, and finally to high rise, listening to the thoughts of people as heard by the angels who “testify … only what's spiritual in people's minds.” We follow around two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) on ground level at their eternal task now focused on a recently devastated city—Berlin.

Damiel seems intrigued by the difference of children with their existential thoughts who can see them, and adults with their prosaic musings who can't. Eventually he'll (they'll) discover the famous actor Peter “Columbo” Falk on a WW II set who can sense their presence (“I'm a friend. Compañero”), and an aerialist Marion (Solveig Dommartin) at the circus (Im Zirkus) who's looking for a meaningful connection as is Damiel. Cassiel for his part will focus on an old man called Homer (Curt Bois) whose age is thwarting his story-telling opportunities while he's still got a lot of story left in him—but not as much as do the angels themselves.

Damiel tells Cassiel he'd like to experience the world in living color as do humans (“Let me enter the history of the world.”) Cassiel replies that that will never happen, but I wouldn't be so sure.


“Wings of Desire” highlights biblical aspects of angels, but one can still enjoy the story with­out picking up on the allusions. There is one point I'd like to focus on, to see what an artist does with it, because it leaves theologians perplexed: (1Cor. 11:10) “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” That's taken by certain religious (e.g. Men­non­ites) to have their women wear nominal head coverings as can be seen in the movie, “Babette's Feast.” But why?

The multilingual angels are all over it like white on rice. Peter Falk their “companion” (i.e. comrade, partner, not so much ‘friend’ as expressed in English) while walking through a muddy field he thinks about his Jewish baba. That's Russian for ‘old woman’, the diminutive form being babushka for grand­mother—as the subtitle renders it, but not from the German Oma for grand­mother. In English babushka has come to mean a kerchief head covering that grand­mothers customarily wear, cf author A.J. Zerries: “tiny triangle of cloth tied under her chin like a babushka” (314). Falk was unsatisfied with his hat, so he tried on a dozen or so from wardrobe, each representing some­one, from a rabbi to a gangster, until he found an anonymous one that made him look “grand­fatherly”, the male equivalent of a babushka. How the man (woman) is perceived through his hat (babushka) indicates to the angels how he is to be treated. Cf Zerries: “a small statue of a man dressed like Zorro, minus the mask and cape. His hair and skinny moustache were a high gloss, shoe-polish black. ‘This is Jesus Malverde,’ the young man said …, ‘the patron saint of drug dealers. He's known as the narco-saint.’ ¶‘Whose side is he on?’ ¶’You pray to a saint to protect you, but some­times the best way is when they protect you from your­self’” (364). In “The Un­touch­ablesSt. Jude is presented as the patron saint of lost causes. If different people and different situations call for different patron saints, then we may suppose the angels, also, minister differently to people in different positions, for comfort, encouragement, self-protection, what­ever, as anchored by the “hat” the folk wear, as was Damiel anchoring the acrobat by holding her dangling rope once he'd come down to earth.

When the seasonal circus ceased, trapeze artist Marion (“Look, an angel!”) had to turn in her costume engel wings to go work unencumbered as a waitress, the real angels presumably ministering to her according to her changed occupational status. In the Bible the woman's covering represents submission to her husband, the power (i.e. authority) on her head. You know the wedding vows, (Eccl. 5:4-5) “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” If she doesn't want to have such power on her head, she is better off remaining single, and this from the angels' perspective too, (Eccl. 5:6) “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: where­fore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?” The emblems common to western society are not so much the hat, but the wedding ring, the woman taking her husband's last name, and her living at his address. At least the “Lieutenant” in this movie seemed to think in those terms when searching for a man by his name and address. In this movie the angel observes a girl prostituting her­self because her (husband?) Klaus is dead.

Peter Falk's thoughts about his grandmother (babushka) are interrupted by some kids cutting through the field who at first recognize him as Columbo, but then reconsider because his coat is too shabby. The angelic trapeze artist changes into a red dress when she hits the night club. Now she looks more like a devil. At any rate she's no angel when she picks up a fellow to take him home for intimate relations.

Production Values

This movie, “Wings of Desire” (1987) ends with a “To be continued...” to entice one to see the (unworthy) sequel, “Far­away, So Close!” (1993). “Wings” was directed by Wim Wenders. Peter Handke wrote the two scenes with dialogue: the first one with the two angels in the car, and the last one with the couple in the bar. The rest was done improvis­a­tionally shooting actors thinking appropriate thoughts to be dubbed in after­wards. It stars Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, and Otto Sander. Their acting was high caliber and nuanced.

This film is rated PG–13. Peter Falk added a light tone to the saturated musing, but the band Nick Cage and the Bad Seeds (“Tell me why”) made the oppressive atmos­phere (“to eternity”) even more palp­able. Damien's hair was swept back when he was a winged angel, and it was let down when he was an earth­bound mortal. The film was B&W when showing the angel's perspective and in color when showing the human one. Solveig Dommartin was the director's girl­friend who'd never worked on a rope before but plays her role with poise after eight weeks of coaching—and there's a stand-in for some of it. Some memorable material was shot at the Berlin Library. The angelic score by Jürgen Knieper is played by a stringed sextet and sung improvis­ation­ally by a choir for hire. Versatile cinema­tog­rapher Henri Alekam used a floating camera to good effect—the movie circus bears his name.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie does very well at conveying an otherworldly perspective, but it will be lost on some people who don't know quite what to make of it. All in all it's a well made movie, just not standard Holly­wood fare. See it or not according to your preferences.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture citation from the Authorized Version. Pub 1611, rev 1769. Software.

Zerries, A.J. Stealing from the Dead. New York: Tom Doherty Assoc., 2012. Print.