Angels, Cowboys, and Christians
A movie star is sitting on an old couch in the middle of the street in Butte, Montana. His name is Howard Spence, and he has run away from the set of his latest film. Something has drawn him to Butte, where he once fell in love with a beautiful waitress.
There's a sense that, in spite of Howard's successes and self-indulgences, he's beginning to understand that true fulfillment may be found in love, family, commitment, and responsibility.
So here he is, sitting alone at "the scene of the crime," haunted by echoes of the past. It won't be easy to fix the relationships he's left in shambles for so long—and he's too blind to realize the journey must begin with repentance and forgiveness.
That's the premise of Don't Come Knocking, the new film by the great German director Wim Wenders, now showing in limited release.
Don't Come Knocking reunites Wenders with American actor and playwright Sam Shepard, with whom he crafted 1984's Paris, Texas, about another lost soul's spiritual journey to mend what is broken. Now, over 20 years later, they've revisited the theme, and discovered another journey, full of humor, hurt, and longing.
Shepard brings rough authenticity to both the script and his performance in the lead role, while Wenders' contribution is to reveal the invisible workings of the Spirit in these lives—through observant camerawork, meditative pacing, and an intuitive grasp of how this rugged landscape represents desolate spiritual territory.
Wenders, a Christian, has been giving attentive cinephiles "eyes to see and ears to hear" for almost three decades of filmmaking. Here's a closer look at some of his most memorable work.
When watching a film by Wenders, it's important to consider the characters' different perspectives on the world. All of his stories are about people whose views are limited, and who need to achieve a more complete understanding.
In Wings of Desire(1987), his Cannes award-winning masterpiece, Wenders follows angels on their daily beat through Berlin's troubled streets. An angel named Damiel (Bruno Ganz) listens to the thoughts of despairing citizens, marvels at the faith of wide-eyed children—and longs to know the joys of sensory experience. When he encounters a beautiful circus trapeze performer (Solveig Dommartin) who longs for communion with a kindred spirit, Damiel finds the provocation to "take the plunge" into human form and pursue her.
As her guardian angel, he comforts her with imperceptible spiritual ministry. And as his muse, she lures him to "take the plunge"—to embrace the mystery of human experience, so that even the simple joy of holding a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning inspires him to reverence and wonder, revealing the sacred in the ordinary.
By tuning our attention to the perspective of angels, viewers find renewed appreciation for the incarnational nature of creation, for the exhilaration of God's love in the highs and lows of daily life.
Wenders once wrote: "Film can reveal the invisible, but you must be willing to let it show." In a recent interview, I asked him what he meant by that.
"One of the amazing achievements of films is that they can reveal something that you can't actually see," he said. "When I started out as a painter, I strictly believed in the visible, and that the visible was it. And in the course of making movies, I realized that something I hadn't actually seen in front of my camera was then there in the movie."
Such was the case when filming Wings of Desire. Wenders, who had wandered away from his Catholic upbringing, found that filming from the perspective of imaginary angels caused him to discover, and capture on film, wondrous things he had never planned.