God doesn’t make an appearance in “Wings of Desire,” a 1987 art film with angels that has been recently rereleased by Criterion on DVD, yet the movie still made me reconsider the way He might view the world. Maybe, just maybe, we occasionally entertain Him.
Directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, “Wings of Desire” is set in Berlin not long before the fall of the Wall. In this drab, industrial city, a host of unseen angels silently pass among the citizens. Much of their watching is of an empathetic, consoling manner, which is how I usually imagine God views us. When a distraught commuter hangs his head on the subway, for example, an angel gives an encouraging embrace. Without knowing why, the man’s spirits are briefly lifted out of despair.
The angels can’t always intervene, however. In one of the picture’s saddest interludes, one of them tries and fails to prevent a man from leaping off a roof. This sense of helplessness is one of the reasons an angel named Damiel (Bruno Ganz) declares that he has had enough of being a heavenly creature. “I don’t want to hover above,” he says. “I’d rather feel a weight within.”
Humanity – despite all of its faults and pain – is enticing to this wayward angel. On his wanderings, Damiel becomes smitten with a circus trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) who performs to mostly disinterested crowds. He, however, is transfixed – by her skill, her bravery, her extreme dedication to what is, in the eternal scheme of things, a frivolous act. She has a simplicity of which he is incapable.
Do we ever delight God in this way? Surely children do when they perform cartwheels in a field or paint with their fingers simply because, for that moment, they are carefree. But what about us adults? Are we too flawed and sinful, or are there ways we can prompt God to look down, smile and once more say, “This is good”?