There’s a great Dhamma movie called Wings of Desire that I highly recommend, it came out in 1987. After finishing Peace Corps Sri Lanka in 1996 and sitting and serving in India and Nepal, I came back to Sri Lanka to settle at a meditation center near Kandy. I followed a daily schedule that included a lot of meditation. I befriended an Israeli meditator and we took a break to travel to Colombo. While there he took me to a German Cultural Center and said you got to see this movie because it had a lot of profound Dhamma meaning. So I sat in a booth with some headphones to watch a German movie with English subtitles, the first movie I’d seen in quite awhile.
It’s filmed in Black and White, set in Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was something about that setting symbolic of human oppression. The black and white background portrayed the dreamlke world as seen by angels and the somber mood of people trying to get by. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels who watch over the city of Berlin, they travel through the city, listening to peoples thoughts and dreams, watching their actions and comforting those in distress. They make their presence known in subtle ways and usually only small children and other angels can see them. They spend their days serenely observing, unable to physically interact but through presence, help to comfort and lift up suffering people. While observing a beautiful female trapeze artist, Damiel falls in love and chooses to give up his immortality to become human and go through all the things humans go through to be with her. Once he switches over to being human, the film turns to color. It’s a masterpiece of poetry, cinematography and music. Here’s a couple links from two beautiful opening scenes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BpY6I9ZR3A, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivnMDs2krX0. There was a sequel to it in 1993 called So Close So Far Away.
I think it especially struck a deep vein because I strongly related to the angels. I’d been removed from the 10,000 things of the world and deep in meditation. The meditative concentration and equanimity felt like experiencing all the stuff in my mind and witnessing the world through the eyes of an angel, through a lens of detachment and compassion. Before vipassana angels seemed far away. Here I was living removed from having to get up to go to work, pay bills, wasn’t married, didn’t have many external needs, worries or responsibilities, my life in the US felt faded. When I’d go to Kandy or Colombo, it really felt like descending into the rougher daily grind of human existence and witnessing that suffering from the outside. At the same time I was probing deep into my own humanity and facing the existential suffering that I brought into this life, the concentration and equanimity was kind of like having an angel there all the time to witness it. I was also nearing a cross roads of deciding on whether to continue or return home to the US. There was some fear with coming back of losing that connection and getting caught up in the grind. I could relate with the angel deciding whether to stay or go.
The movie had a lot of symbolic meaning and shed light on the suffering people go can through and the experience of isolation and separateness that can sometimes come with the human experience. Also from a Dhamma perspective I was thinking is that guy out of his mind to get back into potential endless Samsara? Does he know what he’s getting into? Likewise I was thinking am I out of my mind to consider going back? I think of the Sutra about if you could collect all the tears one has shed over endless Samsara it would fill the 4 oceans, and likewise with all the blood shed. After I returned to the US I realized that coming out of Samsara rests more within myself and how I relate to my mind, it’s less on where I live. Wherever I go I carry the same mind with me to either liberate or to increase bondage. The choice is always mine, the angels never go away, it’s only the mind that connects or disconnects from heaven.