Technology and Perception in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire: A Reflection on Time, Space and Memory in the Postmodern Metropolis
Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is a work that cinematically explores discourses of history and memory in postwar Germany and, since its 1987 inception, most examinations of the film have centered on these aspects. However, little attention has been given to the significant role of technology in Wenders’ film. Emphasized not only in the opening scenes but also throughout the rest of the film, transportation technologies such as airplanes, cars, and trains link the spaces of the city and therefore lie at the heart of Wenders’ Berlin portrait. Furthermore, the self-reflexive nature of Wenders’ work posits film as the quintessential technological medium of storytelling and history, and my paper will thus link theories of technology and perception with those of memory and history.
I will begin my paper by elucidating Paul Virilio’s and Jean Baudrillard’s theories of speed and spatiality in postmodern society and will link these theories with the portrayal of transportation technologies in Wings of Desire. The next part turns to Walter Benjamin’s model of space and memory as a more optimistic approach to spatiality in Wenders’ Berlin portrait, and this latter model will prove to be highly significant in my final analysis of Wenders’ film. In particular, I will explore the film’s emphasis on spaces of absence and the way in which this emphasis reveals a model for a new kind of perception and a model for narrating the past. The last section of my paper will stress the way in which Wenders mediates between the communication technologies of transportation and film, and further, between modernity and postmodernity. Ultimately, the technological perception created by transportation technologies (and theorized extensively by postmodernist theorists Baudrillard and Virilio) is redeemed by the medium of film because of its ability to overcome what film theorist Siegfried Kracauer calls the “blind spots of the mind” (53).
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