Double feature: “Margin Call” and “Wings of Desire” concern, respectively, bankers and angels – two constituencies that probably haven’t found themselves in the same sentence since the script for “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
From lofty heights (literally and metaphorically,) the characters in both of these films look down upon teeming worlds of regular mortals. Both have access to privileged information and an upstream influence over events. Both understand their function as a charge to protect the masses below them from harm. In both films, this protection is the kind that covers its tracks, and thus is almost exclusively imperceptible to those under its shadow.
There is a joylessness to these characters that is partly, if not wholly, a function of their omniscience. They take no pleasure from food or anything else in the physical realm. Their power and remove from the world render them incapable of experiencing certain things. They deal in abstraction, such that even the humans among them seem incorporeal.
And then one figure in one of these films undertakes a step that makes a crucial difference. His curiosity about the human condition is sparked, and he takes a leap of sympathy that cuts through the inter-film similarities and underscores the fundamental failure of imagination displayed by the other characters. It is his interest in life that makes him human, and their lack of it that makes all the others less so.
For a marathon: After “Wings of Desire,” check out “The Lives of Others” for another story of a monitor of strangers’ interior monologues whose sympathy for the watched catalyzes a fundamental shift in his relationship with the world. (The two films are also linked by their efforts to come to terms with 20th-century German history.)
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Michael Beserra” and “Mr. T in DC” at Flickr)