In this German fantasy film by Wim Wenders, Bruno Ganz stars as Damiel, an angel who wishes to become mortal. He, along with Cassiel (Otto Sander) watch over Berlin, listen to people’s thoughts and provide comfort where they can, but the humans are unable to perceive their presence. When Damiel falls in love with Marion, a trapeze artist, he seeks ways to become human.
Much of the film’s dialogue comes from voiceover narration in the form of the thoughts the two angels can hear. This allows viewers to experience Damiel and Cassiel’s distant observation of human life. One can hear and empathize, but do little to ease others’ pain. The film opens with snippets of Peter Handke’s Song of Childhood, excerpts of which are scattered throughout the film, quoted by various characters. Handke is an Austrian novelist and Nobel laureate, and is credited as a screenwriter of Wings of Desire alongside Wim Wenders and Richard Reitinger.
Given the philosophical nature of the film, its cerebral exploration of the human condition, and the poetic dialogue, Wings of Desire is very quotable. Here are some of the best quotes from the movie, translated to English.
- Marion: Time will heal everything, but what if time is the illness?
- Marion: To look in the mirror is to watch yourself think.
- Marion: I know so little. Maybe because I am too curious.
- Homer: My heroes are no longer the warriors and kings … but the things of peace … But no one has so far succeeded in singing an epic of peace. What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn’t endure … and that its story is hardly told?
- Damiel: First, I’ll have a bath. Then I’ll be shaved by a Turkish barber who will massage me down to the fingertips. Then I’ll buy a newspaper and read it from headlines to horoscope … If someone stumbles over my legs, he’ll have to apologize. I’ll be pushed around, and I’ll push back. In the crowded bar, the bartender will find me a table. A service car will stop, and the mayor will take me aboard. I’ll be known to everyone, and suspect to no one. I won’t say a word, and will understand every language. That will be my first day …
- Marion: Longing. Longing for a wave of love that would stir in me. That’s what makes me clumsy. The absence of pleasure. Desire for love. Desire to love.
- Homer: Tell me, muse, of the storyteller who has been thrust to the edge of the world, both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal everyman. With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, bur rather sit apart. And one doesn’t know anything about the other. I’m an old man with a broken voice, but the tale still rises from the depths, and the mouth, slightly opened, repeats it as clearly, as powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated to the meaning of words and sentences.
- Marion: I couldn’t say who I am. I don’t have the slightest idea. I have no roots, no story, no country, and I like it that way. I’m here. I’m free. I can imagine anything. Everything’s possible. I only have to lift my eyes and once again I become the world. Now, on this very spot, a feeling of happiness that I could keep forever.
- Marion: Once again night falls inside my head. Fear. Fear of death. Why not die?
- Peter Falk: What a nostril. A dramatic nostril. These people are extras. Extra people. Extras are so patient. They just sit. Extras. These humans are extras. Extra humans.
- Damiel: … sometimes I’m fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel a weight … to tie me to Earth. I’d like, at each step, each gust of wind, to be able to say, ‘now’ … and no longer ‘forever’ and ‘for eternity’. To sit at an empty place at a card table and be greeted, even by a nod. Every time we participated, it was a pretense. Wrestling … catching a fish in pretense, in pretense sitting at tables, drinking and eating in pretense. Having lambs roasted and wine served in the tents out there in the desert, only in pretense. No, I don’t have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackened fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal … As you’re walking, to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say ‘ah’ and ‘oh’ and ‘hey’ instead of ‘yea’ and ‘amen’ … Or at last to feel how it is to take off shoes under a table and wriggle your toes barefoot, like that.
- The Dying Man: The Far East. The Great North. The Wild West. The Great Bear Lake. Tristan da Cunha. The Mississippi Delta. Stromboli. The old houses of Charlottenburg. Albert Camus. The morning light. The child’s eyes. The swim in the waterfall. The spots of the first drops of rain. The sun. The bread and wine. Hopping. Easter. The veins of leaves. The blowing grass. The color of stones. The pebbles on the stream’s bed. The white tablecloth outdoors. The dream of the house in the house. The dear one asleep in the next room. The peaceful Sundays. The horizon. The light from the room in the garden. The night flight. Riding a bicycle with no hands. The beautiful stranger. My father. My mother. My wife. My child.
- Damiel: I want to know everything!
Peter Falk: You need to figure that out for yourself. That’s the fun of it.
- Marion: Don’t think about anything. Just be. Berlin. I’m a foreigner here and yet it is so familiar. In any case, you can’t get lost. You always end up at the Wall. I wait for my photo at a photo booth, and out comes someone else’s face. That could be the beginning of a story. Faces. I’d like to see faces.
- From Peter Handke’s Song of Childhood: 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?
- From Peter Handke’s Song of Childhood: When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging, wanted the brook to be a river, the river to be a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child; to it, everything had a soul and all souls were one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, had no habits, it often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and made no faces when photographed.
- From Peter Handke’s Song of Childhood: How can it be that … who I am didn’t exist before I came to be, and that, someday … who I am will no longer be …?