By Brikena Ribaj & Scott Bradford
Hypocrisy and the Lies of Time:
An Angelic Dilemma
Hypocrisy of Time
He is ageless, the hunter
With neither beginning nor end
Changeless, yet the father of all change.
His gaze is eternal
Without preference or guile
He loves, yet loathes all.
Existence is determined by time, and as a result, there
is a correlation or parallelism between both existence
and time. Thus, an effort to define one’s self outside of
time is impossible. In Wim Wenders’ film, In Weiter
Ferne, So Nah!, the time-existence conflict is illustrated
through the characters of Cassiel, an existential figure,
and Emit Flesti, an embodiment of time itself.
Time and existence: is it possible for these two intertwined
factors to exist outside of each other’s realms?
Time occupies an almost uncontrollable and untouchable
a role, and questioning its existence is paradoxical, even
laughable. Human existence is often viewed in connection
with the philosophical movement of existentialism.
It is an accepted human trait to question well-set patterns
in order to establish societal variances or to more clearly
define one’s existence.
Wim Wenders, a contemporary writer, and director,
in an attempt to define the interrelationship between
time and mortal existence explores each one separately,
by creating separate characters to portray each phenomenon.
The personality of each character reflects the nature
of the respective phenomena, i.e. time and existence.
Through the physical separation of these characters/
phenomena, Wenders shows that they are intertwined,
that they cannot be understood or defined outside of
each other’s realm. This paper is an examination of the
contrast between socially constructed ideas of time and
existence, versus an individual depiction of them shown
through the interaction of Cassiel and Emit Flesti.
Through the interaction of Cassiel and Emit Flesti, it
is possible to visualize how crucial time is in order to attempt
to define existence. Newton postulated that
absolute time “of itself, and from its own nature, flows
equably without relation to anything external” (qt. in
Slife 17). He explains further that time is the standard by
which all things and phenomena are judged. The order
and directionality of the world is thought to be synonymous
with the absolute and linear organization of events
(17–18). This concept allows time to exist outside of
Emit Flesti or t-i-m-e i-t-s-e-l-f is a paradox in his own
right, because he not only condemns but at the same
time redeems or releases Cassiel from his earth-bound
An Angelic Dilemma
perception of time or his earthly existence. Emit Flesti
dictates the rules of time, and only he can bend or stop
them as visually illustrated in the scene where Emit Flesti
physically stops the hands of time. Cassiel does not fit in,
meaning he cannot comprehend and conform to the
absoluteness of time and its already set regulations; instead
he floats tangent to the circle of time because he
lacks the ability to make time his own.
One becomes aware of Cassiel’s struggle with time
soon after he encounters Emit Flesti. Time robs Cassiel of
the only angelic possession that he has: his armor, his last
tool of identity. He gets a bad deal; his initiation into
mortality foreshadows a harsh human reality. Emit Flesti
ensures that Cassiel will continually struggle during his
Emit Flesti: Old hunters never die…they just fade
away, I know, but not me never!
Raphaela: What do you want from him?
Emit Flesti: He just doesn’t belong here: he’s
Time offers no preferential treatment, and Cassiel
must adhere to its regulations.
Wenders depicts Emit Flesti as time and uses him as
the ultimate authority and frame of reference. One does
not question him/it; he/it is a given or an absolute. Time,
however, has the ultimate authority to question everyone.
Time binds people by his/its rules as seen in the conversation
between Emit Flesti, Damiel, and Cassiel at the
Casa del Angelo, the pizzeria owned by Damiel:
Emit Flesti to Cassiel: They say: time is money,
but they got it all wrong: time is the absence of
money. Would you agree, Karl?
Cassiel to Emit Flesti: Tja, was soll man dazu
sagen? Time is running away from me,
Cassiel to Damiel: Was der in kurzer Zeit zusammen
redet. War eine Menge Geld. Hast du
Schulden bei dem?
Damiel to Cassiel: Tja, es fällt nicht alles vom
Himmel. Time is precious! (25)
This dialog demonstrates that all individuals must
pay time, that all are life-long, time-tax payers. Emit
Flesti, the human personification of time, possesses an
almost too stoic aura. The man, time, illustrates no feeling
or attachment to anything; he is constant, yet
detached. Time is the factor that determines and encompasses
all human activity including existence and
thought. Thus, time is the establisher or policing force of
all patterns of existence.
For one to exist and to survive one’s own existence,
one must learn how to function within the realm of time.
However, those who do not follow his/time’s patterns are
characterized as misfits or irregulars and tend to fall into
existentialism. Existentialism is the point that humans
achieve their understanding that in actuality, they
(humans) are not what society says they are, but instead,
they have been wrongly perceived. Once humans define
a reality in this context, they encounter feelings of pessimism,
despondency, and loss of hope in self.
An Angelic Dilemma
With this line of reasoning, there is no such thing as
an essential self, rather it is an illusion because human
beings are nothing except what they have become at any
given moment; it is the sum of the life they have created
at any point of reference. As quoted in Rychlak’s book,
Introduction to Personality and Psychotherapy, “[H]uman
beings are probably always more ‘about to be’ something
we are not quite yet then we are anything fixed and
‘given’” (641). Thus, they (humans) are not what or how
they envision themselves, rather what time allows them
to be in specific moments.
This situation creates a nothingness, and it is the
source of their (humans’) freedom, because it allows them
to choose how to act or if to act at all. This nothingness
begins at a distinct point of departure, which entails
human consciousness and mental processes. In contrast
to most previous philosophical systems, which maintain
that an a priori essence precedes or transcends the individual
the existence of people, existentialists conclude that
existence precedes essence.
Cassiel is a misfit of time or an irregular because he
has an angelic essence and lacks a mortal existence. At the
moment of Cassiel’s metamorphosis, he is only a fallen
angel with good intentions. His angelic essence, a dogooder
among humans, forces him to fall into mortality.
Cassiel’s fall causes an angelic dilemma; how can an infinite
being ameliorate humans within the parameters of
mortal or finite time? As an infinite being, Cassiel’s
source of freedom, his nothingness, is his good intentions,
which allow him to act in specific moments of
The journey that Cassiel embarks on has a linear
nature. Each moment is the sum of what he has become
at that time, and what he has become evolves from
moment to moment. His linear journey allows him to
progress in time, meaning that the character is immer im
Werden. Existentialists ask existence-related questions
such as ‘why am I the way I am?’; ‘why is life the way it
is?’; ‘what is life?’ etc.
Cassiel epitomizes existentialism because of his focus
on raising questions, rather than answering them. He
becomes lost or loses his identity through defining and
limiting questions, such as: “Warum bin ich Ich und
nicht du, warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort,
wann began die Zeit und wo endet der Raum” (Wenders
1). Life according to Cassiel should provide definite patterns.
The lack of such patterns causes one to forget the
purpose of life, and one becomes lost in a vicious circle of
The mortal existence of Cassiel resembles a state of
perdition because it is a direct result of his inability to
understand and survive within the mortal constructs of
time. In order for Cassiel to define his mortal existence,
he must apprehend the mortal notion of time. As an
angel, he never worked in accordance with mortality-based
precepts of time. He cannot fully grasp this mortal
notion, and because of this ineptness, Cassiel falls in the
literal sense. Through his fall, Wenders illustrates that the
internalization of the concept of time is closely connected
to one’s survival, in fact, it ensures survival. Time transcends
all previous unearthly experiences. As a result of
this idea, Cassiel’s entire existence is held captive by time
as visually illustrated by Emit Flesti’s desire to control
Cassiel’s every thought and action.
An Angelic Dilemma
Cassiel is inauthentic because he simply belongs
nowhere. He does not have the necessary tools to be a
literal citizen of Earth; he has no mortal identity:
Policeman: Wie heißen Sie denn? Sie haben bestimmt
Cassiel: Natürlich. Ich bin doch nicht irgendwer.
Policeman: Eben! Was ist denn daran so schwer?
Nur ein Name! Sie können mir auch rückwärts
buchstabieren! Wie heißen Sie?
Policeman: Na, sehen Sie! Nun fühlen Sie sich viel
wohler! Raabe! Mit einem oder zwei a?
Cassiel: Zwei a. Raabe.
Policeman: R-a-a-b…Und wie lautet der Vorname?
Policeman: Ralph. (15)
Another important facet of identity is the ownership
of a passport; a passport represents a tangible symbol of
identity and belonging:
Cassiel: Was ist daran originell? Sagen Sie nichts,
hören Sie zu! Ich brauch’ sofort ‘nen Pass auf
diesen Namen. Er ist zwar nicht schön, aber.
Forger: Ja, ausgesprochen hässlich.
Cassiel: Aber wenn ich nun hochgenommen
werde, bloß weil ich meinen früheren Namen verschweigen
muss, dann bin ich bereit, bis…bis zum
Äussersten zu gehen!
Forger: Beruhigen Sie sich, mal, ja? Schließlich
lassen wir keinen verhungern. Es dauert so ein
paar Tage. Und, uh, dreitausend Eier…haben Sie
eine kleine Anzahlungdabei?
Cassiel: Tun Sie erstmal was für Ihr Geld! Sie
hören von mir! Der Mann mit den Schnittblumen.
He lacks a passport, a place of residence, and he
does not even possess a name. Cassiel is a citizen of no
particular place, and since he abandoned his angelic state,
he does not belong anywhere, among humans or angels.
Upon his arrival, Cassiel finds himself lost among such
unfamiliar human phenomena as artificial light and the
speed at which humans conduct their everyday lives. He
Wir haben uns ja immer gefragt, warum sie so eine
Affengeschwindigkeit an den Tag legen, jetzt weiß
ich es: es liegt an dem Licht, das sie gegen die
Sonne gesetzt haben; sie sind verdammt spät,
Raphaela, soviel kann ich jetzt schon sagen. Aber
genug für’s erste. Du glaubst ja gar nicht, was alles
vor mir liegt, ich muss mich organisieren, planen,
nachdenken; ich kann jetzt eingreifen, mitmischen;
ich bin jetzt ein Mensch! (13)
He also explains that he has not forgotten his mission
on Earth and that he is finally a member of human society.
Humans learn to cope with loneliness, but Cassiel
does not have the ability to comprehend that it is a major
part of one’s existence on Earth. In a conversation with
Raphaela, he expresses his frustration with humans’ refusal
to live with an open heart::
Das ist also die Einsamkeit, Raphaela. Oh, das ist
An Angelic Dilemma
schlimm, sage ich dir! Keiner hört, was im anderen
vorgeht. Keiner sieht dem anderen ins Herz.
Neimand fragt mal was, nicht mal nach dem Weg.
Was mach’ ich denn hier überhaupt? Rumlungern
und zugucken, wie es ständig Tag wird und wieder
Nacht? Nichts macht mir Sinn. (21)
Cassiel yearns for the human warmth, which he experienced
only as an angel. This is ironic because his desire
to do good forces him into an inauthentic status. All that
remains static is his desire to do good. He never falters
from his original mission, “Ich darf meine Mission nicht
aus den Augen verlieren” (21).
The character of Cassiel fails to see that human
things have a double nature. The good is associated with
the bad and vice versa, and they are necessary to define
each other. Cassiel vacillates from one side of the spectrum
to the other, and he cannot find a balance.
Leopardi, one of the most well-known Italian existentialist
writers, addresses issues of disillusionment with present
reality. In his Operette Morali, he literally captures
Cassiel’s situation. In a short story entitled “Dialogo della
Terra e della Luna” he focuses on a conversation between
the Earth and the Moon. The Earth asks the Moon
whether she is familiar with such Earth-like characteristics
as ambition and political arts. The Moon replies in
all honesty that she does not know anything about them.
The following conversation ensues:
Earth: . . . Were you ever conquered by one of
Moon: Not that I know of. And how? And why?
Earth: For ambition …
Moon: I don’t know what that means . . . (75)*
Cassiel is similar to the Moon in Leopardi’s story. He,
like the Moon, originates from a different source. Their
worlds interact with humanity but are still separate and
distant. Both Cassiel and the Moon observe humanity or
the Earth-they see, but they do not entirely comprehend
and feel because they cannot relate. Humans survive
because they compromise. In a sense, they (humans)
understand the lies and hypocrisy of time.
People are endowed with an instinct to grasp both
the good and the bad, whereas Cassiel shows interest in
only one aspect of the nature of things. Cassiel is not
interested in human traits such as compromise and balance,
and this is a recipe for failure from his initiation
into mortality. In his conversation with Lou Reed, Cassiel
learns that balance is indispensable:
Cassiel: Ich kenn’ dich! I, I saw your concert: Why,
why…can’t I be good?
Lou Reed: I swear, if I knew, I would tell you.
Come on! You can do it!
Cassiel: Why…why can’t I be good, why can’t I act
like a man…why? Why not? (22)
Lou Reed expresses a human’s unconscious ability
to balance the good and the bad. He doesn’t understand
how to do it; he just knows one does it. There is no
definite formula to follow; one learns to balance as one
progresses in life.
Although Cassiel does not learn to balance, his
essence is that of goodness; he comes and then exits life
as a do-gooder. However, to be a successful survivor, one
An Angelic Dilemma
needs to understand how one can exist in the boundaries
over time and accomplish one’s mission. His angelic
the dilemma is that of one who is torn between mortal existence,
and that of an outsider who possesses knowledge
of what was and what could be without understanding
the time-existence relationship. Even goodness on Earth
exists in accordance with the precepts of time.
Emit Flesti or time, the ultimate frame of reference or
mediator of existence must drive Cassiel from his/its
realm. Being the ultimate frame of reference, Emit Flesti
needs to purge himself/itself of misfits or irregulars. One
cannot cheat time.
Cassiel’s second fall is also literal and symbolizes a
falling back into his angelic state, illustrating his ability to
transcend mortality. This is almost paradoxical, because
time or Emit Flesti allows Cassiel to transcend it/himself
without ever having understood it/him.
Because Cassiel is forced to leave mortality through a
violent act, Cassiel’s death could be viewed as tragic. His
exit, however, reflects his entrance; in both cases, he saves
Raissa allowing his essence of goodness to surface. This
defining act mirrors Cassiel’s tenacity to stay true to his
initial cause or mission. Even the eventuality of death
does not hinder him from performing a good deed.
Cassiel’s angelic essence forced him into mortality
and at the same time created his angelic dilemma, which
is his lack of a mortal existence. His angelic essence, however,
condemns but at the same time saves him from his
angelic dilemma. The second rescue frees him not only
from mortal constructs of time but also his mortal existence,
or in other words, his angelic dilemma.
The correlation between time and existence is not
linear, rather they coexist. Time cannot be grasped
outside of human existence, and existence has no
essence outside of time. Wim Wenders clearly demonstrates
in a visual medium that the internalization of
time allows one’s survival. Survival is made possible
through one’s total emersion in the precepts of time,
which creates a mortal existence followed by essence.
Cassiel’s conflict epitomizes the fall of any who try to
create their own existence without time’s permission. It is
his incompetence and unwillingness to conform to set
patterns of time, and it is time’s lies and hypocrisy, that
ensure his eventual fall back into his angelic state.
Emit Flesti as time seeks to corrupt Cassiel by way of
such vices as alcohol. However, Cassiel’s constant and
inner purity frustrates time’s controlling hand. Time’s
own nature is corrupt: he is a control freak and must
bring all under his control. Emit Flesti struggles to completely
destroy Cassiel’s innocence, his angelic essence.
He, therefore, frees Cassiel from his mortal existence, not
out of the goodness of his heart, but rather to regain control
over his realm.
Nick Cave ultimately captures the time-existence
conflict illustrated through the characters of Cassiel and
Emit Flesti in the following song:
It’s a place where you did not belong, where time itself
was mad and far too strong, where life leaped up laughing
and hit you head on and hurt you…While time-out
ran you and trouble flew toward you, and you were
there to greet it weren’t you…But here we are, we’ve
come to call you home and here you’ll stay, never more
to stray, where you can kick off your boots of clay…For
death and you did recklessly collide, and time ran out
of you and you ran out of time…And all the clocks, in
all the world may this once just skip a beat in memory
of you, but then again those damn clocks they probably
won’t, will they, Cassiel?
(qtd. in Wender , 41)
Handke, Peter & Wim Wenders. Der Himmel über Berlin. Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1987.
Keele, Alan. Unoffical Transcript of In Weiter Ferne, so Nah!. 1997.
Leopardi, Giacomo. Operette Morali. Italy: Garzanti Editori, 1984.
Rychlak, Joseph F. Introduction to Personality and Psychotherapy.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.
An Angelic Dilemma