Have you ever wanted to hear the thoughts of other people? I love to people watch at bars, on subway trains, walking down the street and in restaurants. I make up little stories in my mind of who they are, what they are thinking and why they are where they are. I am usually very wrong, but I enjoy doing it because it amuses me and passes the time. But imagine if you could actually hear the thoughts of other people. Hear when someone is contemplating suicide, worrying about their kid, living in their memories of times past or contemplating their fears. You can hear these things, but you are powerless to comfort them, make them laugh, make them cry or just be near them in a physical sense. In Wings of Desire, angels are real and are observing people’s actions and thoughts and yet they are powerless to interfere.
There is only a shadow of a plot, so this part will be quick. Bruno Ganz is an angel who desires to go down to Earth and explore it for himself. “Have someone to come home to after a hard day’s work” as he said in the film. He watches Peter Falk (as himself) while he is on the set of a historical drama. Peter Falk can sense that he is there and acknowledges him although no adults can see him ever. He tells him how great it is to smoke a cigarette, drink a cup of coffee, or slap your hands together when they are cold. From this one-sided conversation, the angel decides to “take the plunge” as he says in the film. He descends to Earth, sells his armor and goes to look for his love, a trapeze artist.
The plot doesn’t so much matter as the feelings elicited from the characters. Bruno is able to portray isolation, loneliness, and desire so well that you begin to feel like your own emotions are nothing compared to him. At one point in the film, Bruno and his angel companion discuss being there for the creation of Earth. They run through the events like they just happened yesterday. I understood from this conversation that they have seen it all and have heard it all. Nothing should phase them and yet it does. They both feel for the man who has seen atrocious things during the war, one of them cries when a man commits suicide and Bruno decides to descend to Earth after watching and listening to a lonely trapeze artist think about her fears and desires. But why have they made this transition? Why have both of them decided that now is the time? Wenders is not interested in giving you answers to these questions. And for that I respect him. He doesn’t care that the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What he cares about is the language, the images and the characters themselves. He is able to portray an idealistic universe in which human beings are just wanting to do good. By the time the film was over, I believed this world view and realized that my problems are nothing compared to other people’s worries. I think this film is amazing because it helped to calm my anxiety over my minute problems. Not a whole lot of films can do this.