Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I recently saw the movie "Wings Of Desire" made in 1987 by Wim Wenders.

A couple of days later this thought occurred to me:

I don't know if this has ever come up in conversations or interviews with the director, but one possible interpretation of the movie is that it is "about" government surveillance, specifically the Stasi's ubiquitous presence in East German daily life between 1950 (when the service was created at the beginning of the Cold War) and 1989 (when the Soviet Union collapsed and Berlin was re-unified). In "Wings of Desire",  invisible and immortal angels exist in Berlin. They are able to overhear people's thoughts, which in the film are beautifully recorded voice-overs of interior monologues. The story focuses on the angels Damien and Cassiel. Damien is compelled by his love of a woman to give up his status as an angel, becoming mortal, but able to enjoy the use of his senses (symbolized by the film's shift to color photography)- to eat and drink, feel pain, or tactile pleasure. (To poop?)  At the end of the movie Cassiel remains untransformed, while the audience learns that Peter Falk (playing himself) is also an ex-angel who has renounced his status.

The angels are portrayed as benevolent beings. They are witnesses to people's thoughts. They occaisonally intercede, as their presence has a calming effect on upset people. Children, being pure of heart, can see them.

In one of my favorite scenes, Damien and Cassiel sit in a shiny convertible recounting all the notable 'stories' of the day- as if the thoughts, feelings, and events they observe were news items. This scene is beautifully filmed and acted- the angels seem to revere the variety of expression they are priveleged to observe. It also reminds me of a meeting between spies, in a secure location, where intelligence is being exchanged.

A library, in which mortals are at their best, their thoughts lucid as they write or study, is an angel magnet. They lean over the shoulders of people reading, and after the library is closed, they are still hanging around like roosting pigeons. The library is a place where privacy and silence is greatly respected so it makes sense that the angels would concentrate there. It is interesting to think of the archives of the Stasi as a kind of library of concealed human thought as well. According to the Wikipedia entry, "During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, Stasi offices were overrun by enraged citizens, but not before the Stasi destroyed a number of documents (approximately 5%) consisting of, by one calculation, 1 billion sheets of paper."

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