Wings of Desire’s Cassiel Takes Flight: Otto Sander Dies at 72

The German actor Otto Sander died today. But he will live on in the movies he made, like the legendary submarine thriller Das Boot, and my all-time favorite film, Wim Wenders’ poetic and glorious Wings of Desire

In Wings of Desire, Sander played the troubled and despondent angel called Cassiel.

He was a contrast to the central character, the wide-eyed and irrepressibly curious angel called Damiel played by Bruno Ganz. While Damiel pursued his bliss, Cassiel attended to the shadows, the doubts, the haunting questions.

At one point, Cassiel rested his head against the ancient dome of a character called “Homer” and listened to the perspective of history.

At another point, he stood onstage — invisible to the audience — alongside a young Nick Cave, who was caught up in the intensity of a performance and mustering the strength to sing “From Her to Eternity.”

In honor of Sander’s life and work, here is my review of that movie, where I wrote about the contrast between Cassiel and Damiel:

Damiel’s tendency is toward awe and delight, while Cassiel tends to be impatient, preoccupied with suffering. Damiel is always drawn to children, but Cassiel keeps his distance. At the circus, Damiel is wide-eyed, engaged, transfixed by the drama and the grace of physicality, unable to take his eyes off the lady hanging from the trapeze. Cassiel would rather sit next to the Middle Eastern woman in the Laundromat and sigh heavily while the spin cycle turns.

These two ways of looking at life seem to be Wenders’ chief concern.

Those who focus on themselves seem to spiral downward and inward, while those who look about in expectation of blessing are lifted up and thrilled.

Also, here is a piece I contributed to Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine upon the arrival of The Criterion Collection edition of Wings of Desire.

In it, filmmaker Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Dr. Jeff Keuss share their thoughts on the film’s importance.


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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • Rebecca Wimer

    Love Wings of Desire. Thanks for highlighting this.