Benevolent angels are often sent from a higher power to pass on a message of great importance, ensuring a person doesn’t deviate from their set path. Going beyond religious connotations, a celestial being is a cupid of sorts, making sure a love connection is not missed. If the devil represents being horny (literally and metaphorically) then agents sent from heaven are often pure of heart. Romantic fantasies have long since featured a matchmaker with wings, but how often do angels fall in love or lust?
Supposedly chaste figures can’t avoid the spotlight of desire when the right person presents themselves. Hot priests have been a big talking point over the last year thanks to Andrew Scott’s very un-Moriarty-like performance in Fleabag. Rewatching The Exorcist — for an entirely different reason — resulted in an investigation that brought out my inner Carrie Bradshaw when I couldn’t help but wonder if Father Karras was the original Hot Priest? The short version of that essay is yes he is the OG Hot Priest, thanks to a combination of gray sweats, active listening, and a rugged face (think part Johnny Cash, part Columbo).
Clergymen differ from angels, as while they are also observers, they are also men of flesh and blood who yearn (even if it isn’t part of the job description). Meanwhile, angels are strictly impartial watchers, simply following orders rather than their own urges. As with most things, there are exceptions to this rule.
Wim Wenders’ 1987 cinematic masterpiece Wings of Desire is perhaps the definitive depiction of angelic love. The German director crafts a beautiful tale, in which immortal angels offer unseen comfort to humans. Perched up high on the winged statues of Berlin and walking among the inhabitants of this fractured city, they can hear every thought and feeling of the people they invisibly walk among. Observers who cannot feel emotion or even experience color, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) grows weary of this form of listless existence. Choosing a mortal life after falling for a beautiful trapeze artist, the film shifts from black and white into color (switching back whenever angel Cassiel’s POV is in focus) as Damiel tries to find Marion (Solveig Dommartin) in a city he has witnessed experience great joy and horror since time began. Tracking her down at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig, the moment the pair are united is crackling with intensity.
Earlier in the film, Damiel discusses all the basic things he longs for, including blackened fingertips from reading the newspaper and having a fever. “To be excited not only by the mind but by a meal. By the line of her neck, by an ear” are cravings he contemplates. Sure, he could have mentioned more obvious body parts; however, these two areas are also erogenous zones. An observation with such specificity, it points to a level of horniness that exists even though he has never experienced sex.
One of the first times the action reverts to color is as Marion gets undressed after her trapeze rehearsal, which could be conceived as voyeurism at its creepiest. Instead, the camera lingers on the line of her neck, emphasizing romance via this visual callback to Damiel’s earlier remark. Taking place before he has made his final decision to ditch the weight of eternity and his angel status, this interaction underscores how ready he is to embrace humanity.
Discovering he is not the only ex-angel in the city of Berlin, Damiel comes to understand why actor Peter Falk was aware of his presence in an earlier scene. Yes, Peter Falk is playing a version of himself shooting on location in the German capital. Another crush of mine (young Columbo is very hot), he plays a pivotal role in helping Damiel during his transition from a moral life. “Ah, a girl! Good!” Falk emphatically responds when Damiel mentions Marion. Ditching immortality so he can find the woman of their dreams at a Nick Cave gig is one of the most blisteringly romantic cinematic encounters.
Twenty years later, Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan starred in the U.S. remake, City of Angels, a far more saccharine attempt, which loses the nuance of Wenders’ beautiful story. In this version, Marion is no longer a trapeze artist or even called Marion. Taking place in Los Angeles (because it is the City of Angels), Maggie is a surgeon used to dealing with life-and-death situations; meanwhile the angel is played by Cage and goes by the name of Seth. Again, he falls in love with her, choosing mortality instead of his role as an observer. Instead of a crowded bar scene with Nick Cave as the soundtrack, a super-cheesy sex scene features a fireplace and dialogue like “It’s OK. We fit together.” Remember, Seth has never had sex before.
The consummation scene between Marion and Damiel is far more chaste in comparison; nevertheless, watching the intense head, hand, and elbow touching in Wings of Desire demonstrates that sometimes less is more when crafting a hot and heavy interaction.
It’s hard to top the romance portrayed in Wings of Desire, which takes the angel observer and gives him emotions after he has become mortal. Angels who keep their wings don’t have the same cravings as the people they watch over.
In the case of Dogma, avoiding human and angel relations is a case of biology or lack thereof; they are “anatomically impaired,” with crotches resembling a Ken doll. “You’re looking at eons of repression getting purged. If only they’d let us jerk off,” Loki (Matt Damon) remarks after Bartleby’s (Ben Affleck) violent outburst. Kevin Smith’s satire is a commentary on Catholicism, which as an organization has long struggled with the concept of desire, and by drawing this particular correlation, Smith drives his point home. By castrating angels it leads to more violence.
More often than not, the lack of angel romance is because they take on the role left open by mythological figures like Eros and Cupid. In the case of the 1997 black comedy A Life Less Ordinary, O’Reilly (Holly Hunter) and Jackson (Delroy Lindo) are sent to Earth to make sure Robert (Ewan McGregor) and Celine (Cameron Diaz) get together by any means necessary. This path of romance facilitator rather than an active participant is the typical angel scenario. Eternal love or even a quick fumble is not on the menu for those tasked with being matchmakers; however, O’Reilly and Jackson have a shared moment in the epilogue suggesting they might be about to get down to it.
In most fantasy romances with an angel protagonist, it is rare for the angel to partake in these very human interactions (even with each other). It’s A Wonderful Life features one of the most iconic on-screen depictions of this mystical being, but Clarence (Henry Travers) is trying to get his wings, not the girl. The 1942 musical I Married an Angel is a rare inter-species pairing that shows what happens when a cad wishes he was married to an actual angel. Finding out the hard way this is not a gift from heaven, Count Palaffi (Nelson Eddy) has already lamented dating regular women, but soon finds out the perfection of angels is not all he thought it would be. This isn’t to say that human/angel pairings can’t work, but Count Palaffi didn’t go into matrimony with the best intentions, and he also kinda sucks.
The first major movie boom featuring angels tasked with helping humans outside of a Biblical setting occurred during the 1940s. At a time when young men were dying by the thousands (and many more people were perishing) in World War II, it isn’t surprising that stories about souls being taken too early dominated. Here Comes Mr. Jordan, A Guy Named Joe, and A Matter of Life and Death are all love stories featuring an intervention or involvement from the heavens; however, because of the Hays Code, there is only so much eye banging that can occur under these guidelines. Being a World War II pilot takes these men into the realms of the Gods, and flying is often given similar gravitas to sex — unfortunately, the mile-high club is off limits for movies made in the Hays Code era.
Angels are not uncommon characters in movies, but more often than not they are placed in a position to aid humans rather than falling in love or having any kind of sexual urge. In Wings of Desire, Damiel starts to understand the concept of sexuality when he is still an angel; however, his world doesn’t enter Technicolor until he is free from the black and white burden of his immortality. Unless they opt in to becoming human, there isn’t much action on the cards for an angel. Caught in a cycle of chastity, celestial beings fulfill the guardian part of their title without ever getting to indulge in thirst-driven activities. It is only after sacrificing their wings that they get to ascend in love (or lust).
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