Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the Wings of Angels, Part I: "Wings of Desire" and the Holy Moment

(Bruno Ganz in "Wings of Desire")

Wim Wenders' 1987 film, "Wings of Desire" is quickly ascending on my list of favorite films of all time. Not necessarily because the movie is beautiful, which it truly is. My estimation of it grows with how much the film assisted me in my quest to understand myself.

It tells the story of Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an unseen angel who silently observes the hearts and minds of the people in West Berlin. He spends his days giving comfort to those whose are in pain and making notes on the beauty of normal human nature, which he discusses with his spiritual brother, Cassiel (Otto Sander). Damiel is completely fascinated by humanity but knows he can't become a human himself without taking away his immortality. Then he quietly and serendipitously meets a lonely and despondent trapeze artist named Marion (the beautiful and dearly departed Solveig Dommartin) whom he falls in love with. With that, he begins to ruminate whether or not to take the plunge and become human to meet her and hopefully, be with her.

The true facet of this movie that continually runs in my brain is how the angels view humanity from the outside in. They've lived an eternal life watching people and seeing their actions. They know what people are doing, but don't understand why they do it. After the movie, it was pointed out to me that I behave in a similar way. As an autistic, I describe seeing life as through a prism. Normality is difficult to comprehend. When you live in a world of your own (as I do), understanding other peoples' worlds is difficult.

(David Jewell & Caveh Zahedi in "Waking Life")

Another element of "Wings of Desire" that helped me with my theory of the "Holy Moment." This concept comes from the movie "Waking Life" in a scene between director Caveh Zahedi and writer David Jewell. In Caveh's reading of critic André Bazin's book "What is Cinema?" he comes to the notion of how great film is born out of moments that are pure and open -- a "Holy Moment."

Ever since that scene, I've been searching to expand on what that entails, but some of that answer was found in "Wings of Desire." The angels cannot interfere with the actions that humans may take, but they do give a feeling of someone there when there is no one to be found. With films, we the viewers, can only stand by watching a scene (like the angels); there is no interference. And yet at times, the barrier between film and viewer is removed and we become part of it. I purposefully go to a different space and time -- it becomes vital to me. There are scenes in some films that make me feel that I'm just as much a part of the film as what I'm watching, even if I'm only listening intently in silence (again, like the angels). I become part of what I'm seeing. Art is something that keeps me alive. I participate in the "life" of a film (particularly when there is a "Holy Moment"); when in reality, "real life" is something that overwhelms and frightens me.

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