"Warum bin ich hier und nicht dort?"
A view on a vision in Wenders's Der Himmel über Berlin
- The End
- Als das Kind Kind war, I
- Als das Kind Kind war, II
- Als das Kind Kind war, III
These are the last words we hear from Damiel, the angel who becomes a man in Wim Wenders' film Der Himmel über Berlin. What we have seen immediately before that, are two scenes with Damiel and Marion, the woman he loves.
Scene no. one: After he has found her, we see them together, standing in a bar (fig. 2). He is silent, while she tells him about her life and experiences. How she has never had relationships of real consequence with other people. But: "Mit dem Zufall muss es nun aufhören... Neumond der Entscheidung. Ich weiss nicht, ob es eine Bestimmung gibt, aber es gibt eine Entscheidung. Entscheide dich. Wir sind jetzt die Zeit." She goes on to say that they represent or are the incarnation of all people, Man and Woman. In fact, what she is saying is that they are living metaphors. "Du hast das Spiel in der Hand. Jetzt - oder nie. Es gibt keine grössere Geschichte als die von uns beide. Von Mann und Frau". The night before she dreamt about an unknown man - "meinem Mann"; at one and the same time she had felt alone and in total unity with him "im Labyrinth der gemeinsamen Seligkeit. Ich weiss. Du bist es".
After a cut from the medium close up of them to a long shot bird's-eye view of the set, Damiel and Marion kissing each other, we see the well known statue of the golden angel. From that, a dissolve (fig. 3) brings us to the following morning, scene no. two: In a very low camera angle we see Marion practising in her rope, floating in the air. Damiel is holding and swinging the rope during her exercise. We hear his voice: "Etwas ist geschehen. Es geschieht immer noch. Es ist verbindlich. Es war in det Nacht, und es ist jetzt am Tag, jetzt erst recht. Wer war wer? Ich war in ihr, und sie war um mich."
What does Damiel's statement about his knowledge as opposed to that of the angels mean? What does he know, and what is it that angels don't know? And more importantly, how is a possible explanation related to the way this film itself demonstrates an answer? I believe that the answer has to do with the fact that we hear Damiel say those words as we see his hand writing them.
In the course of my analysis I hope to explain the meaning and the poetic importance of this merging of the moment of the voice and that of the hand; and to get nearer to an understanding of Wenders' vision of the conditions of angels as well as human beings between heaven and earth.
Als das Kind Kind war, I to the top of the page
The first shot in the film - shows a text. And the first piece of speech is Damiel's voice reciting the poem, which his hand starts writing. Already the film demonstrates curious distances and variations between its elements; in this case between the written words and those spoken by the voice. Or perhaps between what Damiel remembers and is trying to express and reflect upon on the one hand, and what he actually feels to be at the moment. What is being written before our eyes on the screen, is this:
What is heard in Damiel's voice-over recitation, is this (text in italics is spoken, the rest is sung):
"Als das Kind Kind war,
ging es mit hängenden Armen,
wollte, der Bach sei ein Fluss,
der Fluss sei ein Strom
und diese Pfütze das Meer.
Als das Kind Kind war,
wusste es nicht, dass es Kind war,
alles war ihm beseelt,
und alle Seelen waren eins.
Als das Kind Kind war,
hatte es von nichts eine Meinung,
hatte keine Gewohnheit,
sass oft im Schnedersitz,
lief aus dem Stand,
hatte einen Wirbel im Haar
und machte kein Gesicht beim Fotografieren."
The orchestration of moving picture, written text, sound, spoken and sung words challenges our senses and the audience's minds to see and hear not only the individual elements and their possible meaning, but to take in and reflect upon the (possible) meaning of their resemblances and differences, repetitions and variations.
The following sequence shows Damiel's and his angel colleagues' impressive capacities. They can see everything, hear everything, even the thoughts of all living human beings, and they are under no limitations from the laws of nature. Nor time nor space pose any limits to them. They exist endlessly, they can fly and have access to every possible part of space, and any room they want to go to in order to follow the fate of people or listen to their thoughts. From an all seeing eye, a dissolve takes us on a flight around the Himmel über Berlin (fig. 5) and in and out of the lives and minds of people. This bird's-eye view lets us hear and see everything from an angel's-eye-view.
Als das Kind Kind war, II to the top of the page
While we follow Damiel on his routinely visits to homes and minds around Berlin, we are presented with part two of his recitation of "das Kind poem". This time we hear his voice, but do not see any text:
Als das Kind Kind war,
war das die Zeit der folgenden Fragen:
Warum bin ich Ich und
warum nicht Du?
Warum bin ich hier und
Wann begann die Zeit
und wo endet der Raum?
Wie kann es sein, dass ich, der Ich bin,
bevor ich wurde, nicht war
und dass einmal ich,
der Ich bin, nicht mehr der,
der Ich bin, sein werde.
As indicated by the italics, some lines are spoken, others sung. Perhaps we can take it as a sign that Damiel in his angelic distance to human beings in a way is playing with the words and the children's' questions. Also (even though children are the only living people for whom it is possible to have visual contact with the angels), instead of the text we follow Damiel's visits to a couple of apartments, while he is reciting the poem.
In spite of his playful performance, the questions that the children pose are pointing in the direction of the conditions of life; a living - and mortal - existence, which Damiel shall aspire to reach. As an angel with unlimited existence in time and space he is precisely not in the position to ask about the difference between Me and You: "Warum bin ich Ich und/warum nicht Du?" Or between Here and There: "Warum bin ich hier und/warum/nicht dort?" Time and space and identity are without limits and consequence to him. The purely spiritual world of the angels leaves no room for identity, individual life, and sensuality.
This is precisely what he complains about to his fellow angel, Cassiel, a little later. After having talked about how wonderful it is to be all spirit ("Es ist herrlich, nur geistig zu leben"), he breaks off this "testimony" and lets his thoughts wander in another direction:
- aber manchmal wird mir meine ewige Geistesexistenz zuviel. Ich möchte dann nicht mehr so ewig drüberschweben, ich möchte ein Gewicht an mir spüren, das die Grenzenlosigkeit an mir aufhebt und mich erdfest macht. Ich möchte bei jedem Schritt oder Windstoss "Jetzt", und ... "Jetzt" und "Jezt" sagen können und nicht wie immer "seit je" und "in Ewigkeit".
He wants to experience sensuality and limits like a living, human being. He wants to be committed by the limits of human existence and feel the sensual, bodily response of solid things, smells and temperatures and not just float in the limitless world of the angels. For example; "Fieber haben, schwarze Finger vom Zeitungslesen, sich nicht immer nur am Geist begeistern, sondern endlich an einer Mahlzeit, einer Nackenlinie, ... einem Ohr."
In the world of the angels everything just is - endlessly. Neither time nor space has any limits. No real difference to provide a basis for decisions one way or the other in a vast ocean of Being. This may be one way of understanding the film's use of black and white versus colour. When we are in the world of the angels or see the world from their perspective, everything is seen in black and white. But gradually, as Damiel's wish (and his sense of the sensual qualities of the human world, as well as his affection for Marion) becomes stronger, colours appear. First without warning in his view of Marion in her "angel performance" (!) i the trapeze (fig. 10-11), and then for the second time, when he follows Marion to her trailer. He "listens in" on her thoughts about her views on life, her way of thinking, her wish to be present, be in the world and be true to herself; in her own words: "Being among colours" and thinking "inside closed eyes ...close the eyes once more. Then even the stones will come alive." (fig. 12) Also, in this chain of thoughts she repeats her "Desire to love" ("Envie d'aimer" in her native language).
Fig. 10-11. Damiel is the angel, who suddenly sees Marion in flying colours.
So, the chain links together these elements: Her mind or thoughts, colours, stones coming alive, pleasure, desire, love. And, while she is thinking of the stones, their coming alive, and the colours of life, Damiel takes up one of her stones. This gesture is first shown in a double exposure (fig. 10), which actually doubles him, demonstrating his increasingly unstable position between angel and mortal man.
Fig. 14-15. No. 15 is the shot that goes from black-and-white to colours.
During the following shots this doubling and transparency disappears. He is seen as a solid figure, and he holds the stone firmly, feeling it in his hands - and then Marion and the set, all of the scene continues in colour (fig. 12). This shifting to colour escalates and reaches its final state at the moment when Damiel decides to become an ordinary human being. Living and loving and being mortal. From then on, (almost) everything in the film its world is in colour.
The use of colour and other cinematic style practices give body and meaning to the tranformation from angel to human being, from separation to meeting and shared life, from immortal to mortal life. The pictures give other meanings to the words; meanings that are found only in the moving images. The mute colours speak about transitions across the barriers, which the words of the poem articulates as questions. The pictures do not just illustrate the words. The combination of the poem's childishly precise questions and Wender's poetic pictures holds both inquiring wonder and the doubtful answer of the vision.
Als das Kind Kind war, III. - "Jetzt", .. und"Jetzt" und "Jetzt" sagen können" to the top of the page
After Damiel has found Marion at a rock concert, and she has felt his presence, it is her turn to recite "das Kind poem" - in her dreams:
"Als das Kind Kind war,
war das die Zeit der ...
Warum bin ich Ich
und warum nicht Du?
Warum bin ich hier
[Marion (mummelt im Schlaf):
Ich will, dass du bei mir bleibst ...]
und warum nicht dort?
Wann begann die Zeit
und wo endet der Raum?
Ist das Leben unter der Sonne
nicht bloss ein Traum?"
Fig. 14-15. Fig. 16-25. While the questions in the poem about separation and difference are asked in Marion's voice, the dissolve-montage of shots shows her and Damiel's meeting and unity. Wenders' pictorial articulation of the vision establishes the (new) meaning of the poem, or visualizes transformations of its meaning in the course of the moving sequence of shots.
Damiel is with her, and yet another layer of meanings is added to words like "ich", "du", "hier", "da", "Zeit", and "Raum". Instead of separation and difference they suddenly reveal promises of unity and connection. (fig. 13-22). Then - Damiel can make his final decision and change from angel to man. He dies and disappears as an angel and is "born", appears, as a man. He is now able to say "jetzt" and "jetzt" and "jetzt", to have been with his woman the night before, be with her still, and in a future. "Etwas ist geschehen. Es geschieht immer noch. Es ist verbindlich. Es war in det Nacht, und es ist jetzt am Tag ..." Or as he puts it: "Ich bin zusammen".
They have not conceived a child, but "ein unsterbliches/gemeinsames Bild. (...) Es war einmal./Es war einmal,/und also wird es sein./Das Bild, das wir gezeugt haben/wird das Begleitbild/meines Sterben sein./Ich werde darin gelebt haben. (...) Erst das Staunen/über uns Zwei,/das Staunen/über den Mann und die Frau/hat mich Zum Menschen gemacht." Viewing the picture Damiel is talking about and combining the different versions of the poem with the visualization of both non-existing angels and real human beings on the screen, we may make our guesses as to what this picture is. Perhaps it is, and perhaps the film is, and perhaps the moving images can be immortal pictures of the joy of Damiel's and Marion's mortal life.
Because, this is where Damiel finally arrives: in colours. He has traveled from eternity to reality, from "nur geistig zu leben" to his senses, from "Zeit und Raum ohne Anfang und Ende " to life with limits in time and space. This transformation is presented through Wenders' "cinema-poetic" practice. like for instance his use of black and white and its special combination with colours. Not that the shift in colours is a mere illustration of Damiel's history; on the contrary, the angels' black-and-white world in this case is a prerequisite to tell this kind of story about his travel into the world and its life possibilities and limits. This is never spoken, neither verbally, nor in text, it is shown silently, visually .
The world of the angels is a world parallel to that of the ordinary mortal ones, like us. It does not exist, but it can be filmed in black-and-white, and this is necessary in order to establish a perspective on what it is an angel like Damiel is in search of in our world. It is a kind of detour to reach this poetic sense of/sensitivity towards the world of binding relations in time and space. The vision is in black and white, the moving picture in many colours. Damiel does not exist (tidligere skal jeg have en passage om, at engle jo ikke eksisterer). But in Der Himmel über Berlin he is here - now - and in colour! Contrary to the first written text (cf. fig. 6) plus the spoken and sung words, the last text (fig. 1) and the voice-over has no distance between them. Damiel is no longer hovering over the world, but present in and with the words he is writing. He is now in a position to claim: "Ich ... weiss ... jetzt, ... was ... kein ... Engel ... weiss."
to the top of the page
1 It is no coincidence that I frequently use words like "we", "see", "hear" in connection with this film (and others for that matter). This is done to draw attention to sensual qualities that create meaning and inspire decisions about interpretations made by us, the audience. Things which are precisely triggered by Wenders' use of aesthetic and narrative patterns and the results of which can be seen and heard - sensed - in his style.
2 Even if my analysis does not in an explicit way deal with the film's references to German history, the relations between past and present, ideological or political perspectives, I think that the dialectic of Damiel's project and dynamics of his growing understanding of the relation between his existence as an angel and his arrival in the Berlin of the real world - all this offers a fruitful framework for interpretations of political, ideological, and historical perspectives of the film as well.
to the top of the page