Wings of Desire and City of Angels

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Wings of Desire and City of Angels

Wings of Desire (1987; Germany); and City of Angels (1998; USA)

In an investigation of the differences between the Germany Wings of Desire and American City of Angels, various differences occur in almost every aspect of the film including the tone, scripting, characterization, and cinematography.  A special attention is paid to the relation of these elements especially the tone elements of the two movies. In both movies, the main characters are the angels who are visible only to the other angels and the children while the adult human beings are unable to see them. While the greatest task of the angels is to observe the earth and the life of human beings, they eventually gain interest of assuming a humanly state. The various similarities and differences between the two films are featured in this essay.


In City of Angels, the angels have the ability to transform themselves into human nature such that they can be seen physically while it is not the case in Wings. Such a difference in how the nature of angels is painted contributes a lot in the tone of both films. Both Damiel and Seth represent a great role of the angels which is to guide the human beings not to take the wrong paths and comforting those in despair. For instance, we see Seth in a LA hospital comforting the bereaved and those that are sick while as Dammiel walks in the streets, he comforts the accident victims and those anticipating suicide. Although in some cases the suffering are uplifted and their souls healed, some do not as seen in the Wings where a comforted suicide attempter still jumps from a building to death after being convinced not to. Also, the film colour in the entire City of Angels completely differs with the entire colour used in Wings. City of Angels uses grey colour while Wings uses entire bright colour.

The two films feature the character of angels who engage in observing the lives of the human beings and the nature of the landscape. Originally, the scenes from City and Wings bring the angel’s point of view in which a grey-scale colour is used in demonstrating the angel’s limitations in the world experiences and interactions while all human based scenes use full colour. We are made to see the main character Seth in City and Damiel in Wings walking throughout their cities to record the actions of various individuals.  While meeting with other angels, these two characters give reports on various joyous events and odds they witnessed in the lives of the people they were watching. During their trips, they are at times observed by innocent beings such as children, the blind, and the insane.  They also witness some men giving a helping hand to those that are in anguish and they find pleasure in it too.

One of the differences in the movies is that in City of Angels, Seth offers some insights of the afterlife to the dead while this is not featured in the Wings of Desire. For instance, in City, there are several situations where the angels interact directly with the humans like accompanying the spirits of the recently dead to the afterlife such as in the case where Seth escorts the soul of a young girl away from her dead body to the ever after. These instances of humans accompanying spirits are not evidenced in the Wings of Desire film, and this is a major difference.


Another difference is the ability of the angels to interact with the humans. The angels in the City film have more interaction with the human beings hence a more impact to the world than those in the Wings whereby they exist in spiritual state and never interacting which increases the feeling of isolation to the human beings. In Wings, the angels are basically unseen hence unable to engage the human beings directly which leads them to the act of watching over them, able to hear their desires and thoughts and in some cases offer some assistance.  Also, in the Wings, angels link human beings with gods by listening to their needs and prayers. In the City, Seth interacts physically with the human beings and desires much to become like them so as to love Maggie who he meets in hospital. The inspiration for Maggie to care and save the lives of patients increases Seth’s desire to have the ability to smell, feel, and eventually love her more. However, the love for Maggie makes Seth’s angelic work difficult as his quite-mortal state becomes more of a barrier than a gift. This is also a big difference between the two films and their setting.

The cinematology of the movies also highlights the differences whereby the City’s colors and shorter shots takes us a world away from the long black and white films displayed in the Wings. In Wings, colors are only present when freedoms are mentioned just to make the audience aware of who is in the scene something which is not the case for Angels. For instance, when Marion, an artist is practicing as the angel watches over her, color is introduced to symbolize her wish to be free (Cook 37). The theme of color is also used during major revelations of the characters’ reviews or approaches like in the case where the protagonist angel decides to fall in love; he is colorized for some moments. The black and white shots are used to symbolize the angel or his point of view is represented by the shots in the whole film of Wings. Both films use various montages which have significant purposes. In Wings, the montage is meant to pinpoint the misery of humanity as observed by the angels.

Another major difference is that in the Wings of Desire, the fact that angels are never human is kept true throughout the film and the spirituality is observed because the interaction of the angels with the humans is not so much as it is in the City of Angels. In the City, it becomes amazing when Seth becomes a physical male and gets attracted to a female – Maggie in the hospital while the angels are supposed to be spiritual beings who do not have gender (Zanfagna 56). The love for Maggie increases Seth’s desire to become a physical man who can touch, feel, and love. Love is a feeling, which the character admires to have despite lack of a physical feel and description as a man. And this marks another difference between Wings of Desire and the City of Angels films.

There is also a difference in how the two films end whereby the City of Angels ends with the death of Maggie leaving Seth lonely and living in a noble place. On the other hand, Wings ends when Damiel is just beginning his life with Marion – his lover and they seem to be happy. The audience is left to wonder how an angel will manage to live a human life with another human being as lovers. The City’s ending in a dramatic way is meant to desensitize the characters making them just ordinary characters while in Wings, such an inconclusive finish is lacking and not evidenced at all, and this leaves the audience in a great suspense and admiration to know what will happen next.


Generally, Wings paints a darker picture of being in the human state than it is in the case of City of Angels. Thus, Damiel’s decisions are seen as more powerful than those of Seth. While Seth tries to physically interact with human beings to help them in difficulties, Damiel seemingly provides imperceptible sheds of light on the challenges faced by the human beings and gives them hope. Both Damiel and Seth have great interests in experiencing the physical world in the state of human beings especially after they fall in love with women.

Work Cited

Cook, Roger. “Angels, Fiction and History in Berlin: Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 66.1 (1991): 34-47.

Zanfagna, Christina. Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017. Print.

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