Lacan at the Movies

German director Wim Wender’s 1987, “Wings of Desire,” ranks as one of a few contemporary films assigned indefinitely to the pantheon of cinema classics. With its even, sombre, but reflective tone, and mise-en-scene of bleak optimism and vain hope, the film should strike a chord with those thinkers who register little real change behind apparent shifts in social formations. (I’m thinking of Giorgio Agamben in particular, whose philosophy ascertains the inherent similarity between the totalitarian and actually-existing forms of democratic republics).

It is then-contemporary Berlin. An angel (Bruno Ganz), perched atop the Brandenburg Gate, gazes joyfully at the world below. People move. They eat, they drink, they fornicate. They experience pain, pleasure, anger, peace. They live, and they desire to live longer, to live better, to become other than they are.

The city’s two guardians angels can be anywhere at any time. Omnipresent. They know all there is to know. Omniscient. They try their hardest to influence the lives of the downtrodden and jaded for the better. Often they succeed, and sometimes they fail. They cannot feel the weight of their clothes, the taste of food, the chill and cold air, the pain of being a temporal being. One (Ganz) tires of forever, of all, of everything. He is directed toward a woman who herself dreams toward angelic existence.

a. The objet petit a. The object/cause of desire. We move toward both tangible and intangible goods. We desire these things, these object/causes of desire, because we are drawn by them. There is a lack within each being. For Wenders, this lack is not only an affair of the human condition, but of the very condition of existence itself. To desire nothing is stagnation, and certainly, process is a feature of perfection.

But we not only desire, we are (like those pained existents in Wender’s film) condemned to desire. For when we attain the object of desire, the objet petit a, it is no longer the object. Desire is a constant force. This is why Wender’s film is so tragic. The angel will not remain satisfied with his object forever. The trapezist will not remain enamored with him either.

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