Loving transformations in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire
In this paper I look closely into some conceptual connections between Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire (1987) and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (1922), which served as an ideational germ for the film. For Wenders, as for Rilke, the ephemerality of human existence is set against the infernal eternity of the angel, on the one hand, and an undying longing for metaphysical childhood, on the other. I argue that by employing this threefold vision, which Damiel, the film’s protagonist, traverses throughout the film, Wenders problematizes the notion of love to the effect that the very possibility of love is rendered as something which calls out conceptual mending. Rilke poetically debunks both romantic love (personal yet unreal love) and sexual love (non-personal and unreal) in favor of a highly problematic notion of love, which is abstract, non-personal and metaphysical, coming dangerously close to the kind of instrumental love, which angels notoriously practice both in the Elegies and in the film. Hence a question arises: is there no escape from angelic narcissism? This question underscores Marion’s final love monologue in the film, where she emulates the erstwhile language of Damiel, before his falling from grace. I conclude that a philosophical consideration of this form of love affords a dialectical response to the perennial preoccupation of both Rilke and Wenders with the difficulties of living in the world. For both auteurs “here is the time of the tellable”; being is narrational, calling upon the temporality of the stage. Rilke surmises: in loving we free ourselves from the loved one in order to become something more; a story, Wenders adds. I suggest that this dialectic resolution not only lends thematic unity to Wenders’ complex film, but also yields a philosophic insight into Damiel’s final provocation: “I now know what no angel knows”.
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