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The awe and wonder by which Nicholas Cage's character responds to all things human serves to remind us that it is the simple things in life that are really the most profound. 
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C
ITY OF ANGELS
(1998)

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By David Bruce
.................................
David Bruce
"She didn't believe in angels
until she fell in love with one."
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Look at this poster art. What I was impressed with was the use of black dress for angels instead of the traditional white with wings. Also, the presence of them all over the beach listening the music of the setting sun, very esoteric. It reminded me of "The Seventh Seal" by Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, I'm sure this is where the idea came from.
Images © copyright Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

Seth: Nicolas Cage, Dr. Maggie Rice: Meg Ryan, Nathaniel Messinger: Dennis Franz, Cassiel: Andre Braugher.
Directed by Brad Silberling.
Written by Dana Stevens.
Running time: 116 minutes.
Rated PG-13 (for language, sexuality and some nudity).
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The poster makes the plot clear. An angel falls in love and falls from heaven.
   This film is an authorized remake of the 1987 West German film "Der Himmel über Berlin" (1987/$3.2m), which was released in the United States as "Wings of Desire", and which won numerous International Awards and recognition, especially for writer/director Wim Wenders. Film reviewer, Roger Ebert , says: "The Wenders film is more about spirituality."

     Here is a Hollywood film that at last does not say that humans become angels. In fact, the Bible says that humans will judge the angels in the hereafter not become angels.  The Bible also says that angels desire to look into all things human.  This may be the jumping off point for the story line of City of Angels.


Roger Ebert is right when he says, "City of Angels hits the crest of the boom in angel movies--and like most of them, it's a love story. Hollywood is interested in priests and nuns only when they break the vow of chastity, and with angels only when they get the hots for humans. Can you imagine a movie in which a human renounces sexuality and hopes to become an angel?"

Ebert is right. Hollywood wouldn't do it. But, actually, I think a movie like that would work. Don't we all long for something more?  I, for one, have a desire to go into the realm that Seth the angel leaves. Sure, to be more human (the point of the film) is a great goal, but to be more spiritual is my greater passion.

The more Hollywood portrays Angels and things spiritual the more the intangible spiritual world that exists all around us becomes seemingly more tangible.  Indeed, movies like this promote belief in the spiritual realm.

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Seth is an angel who watches over humans. He listens to their thoughts/prayers and cares for them. He is assigned to the Los Angeles area. The film opens with Seth at the side of a dying child. He guides her into the after life. Seth's only real interaction with humans occurs after death. His touch can not be felt by living humans.
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The idea that the angels surround us promotes the biblical idea that heaven also surrounds us.  Hebrews 12:1 states that "we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses."  This "great cloud of witnesses" is heaven.  Everyone wants to know the location of Heaven.   It is all around us.  The link to the spiritual world is as close as your nose and only a prayer away.

How can the thought life of humans be heard by angels?  This presented an interesting way on how our prayers on earth are heard by a God who resides in the spiritual realm.

Angels taking an interest in human welfare is certainly biblical.

In the film angels move at the speed of thought and can only be recognized if they wanted you to see them.  Sounds like the resurrected Jesus when he appeared to his disciples; they recognized him but he was different.  All of these qualities the Bible tells us are endemic to the "new bodies" that all will receive who live with God in the hereafter.

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Problems arise for Seth when he falls in love with a human. He cannot experience her touch. He cannot enjoy the foods she likes.
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The film makes it clear that humans do not become angels when they die. Instead the film tells us that angels can become human. This is not a biblical idea, of course, but essential to the film's exploration of free will and the wonder of human love, feeling, passion and even taste.  The awe and wonder by which Nicholas Cage's character responds to all things human serves to remind us that it is the simple things in life that are really the most profound. 
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Maggie, through a series of events, learns that Seth is not human. A former angel tells her, "Seth knows no fear. He feels no pain. No hunger. He hears music in the sunrise. But, he'd give it all up. He loves you that much. He can fall. He can give up his existence as he knows it. He can give up eternity and become one of us."

Seth does give up eternity. He takes the fall and becomes human because of his love for Maggie. There are accounts of angels falling from heaven in the Bible, but this is due to pride. And, there is the case of God himself who gave up eternity to become human because of his great love for humanity (see scripture below),

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Ironic as it is, ,just after Seth becomes human, in order to be with Maggie, she is  killed in a bicycle accident. He touches her for the last time. Again, the death touch, only now it's on this side of eternity. Seth is left alone to experience human pain, loss and loneliness. Was it worth it? "Yes," he says. To be human is a wonder. He returns to Farmer's Market (across from LA's famous Angel's Flight - a cable car going up a steep hill) where they used to buy groceries. He buys pears as she had done. Later he bites into the pear, like in the garden. Seth has become fully human.

WHEN GOD BECAME HUMAN

Philip. 2:3-11
     Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.
     Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

FILM PROMOTES SATAN
Subject: comment
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2000
From: Roel

Hi, here a comment from Holand. My name is Roel and I'm worried about films like City of Angels. To me the bible is very clear about angels having sex or romantic feeling for humans (Gen. 6-1:4). It's not sensible to romance this kind of stuff because God has forbidden it. It's always been in the interest of people to do things that God has forbidden and so it was en is for angels. You now, God has special punishment for angels that leave their "home" and have sex with humans? I think to promote this film is promoting satan! (excuse me if my english isn't perfect)
Greeting from Roel

Response: I doubt that any angels left heaven to have romantic lives with humans. Do you? The film is about the uniqueness of being human.

BOOK OF CITY OF THE ANGELS
Subject: book
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2000
From: ana

my name is ana and i want to know if there is a book published of the picture CITY OF ANGELS. please tell me. best regards ana
Response: I do not know of any -David.

SURPRISED BY REVIEW
Subject: review
Date: Sun, 9 Jan 2000
From: Chris

I was quite surprised by your somewhat positive review of CITY OF ANGELS. When I saw it, I thought that if Satan wrote a movie script, he would have written the one for that movie. Talk about PR for fallen angels! Angels know God more perfectly than we do now--why would they ever choose to be human (if they could)?

I was also troubled by the overall morose demeanor of all of the angels in the movie. They looked glum for the most part, very sad as they go about their duties. This is contrary to what we know about angels.

As a Catholic (and a devotee of your web site), I thought your review would say something to the effect of, "What a depressing movie. St. Michael, pray for us!"
God bless,
Chris

My response: I don't think there was an attempt here to make a biblical movie. It's a statement about the significance of being human.

WINGS OF DESIRE.
September 12, 1999. Hello! My name is Ray and I am a senior in High School. I am doing a comparison between Wings of Desire and City of Angels. I found that Wings of Desire is very hard to understand (for me anyway). If you could help me out in anyway it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time and please get in touch.
Sincerely,
Ray

My response: Both films are about the wonderful life we have as humans. I will be doing a review on Wigs of desire soon. Please check back in a month or two. Until then, here is a mini review: 1) angel longs to be human, (2) becuse he has fallen in love with a human woman. 3) He literally falls and becomes human. 4)Note the key line in this frame: "There is no greater story than ours."  In other words, value your humanity it is a precious gift.

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HUMANS ARE NOT ANGELS
August 14, 1999. After viewing City of Angels for a final film paper I am writing about the  resurgence of interest in angels, the only interesting part of the fiim is  when Seth states that humans are not angels. If people read their bible,  they would know that the angels were created separately. Only the comfort it brings to grieving humans explains the human to angel conversion. I thought  the rest of the movie was just plain dumb. If I had to look at one more close up of Seth (Nicholas Cage) mooning over all things human, I thought I would scream, and after all that Maggies dies! What a waste of time.

AM I BEING PUNISHED?

July 30, 1999. Hello: After Meg Ryan dies, Nicholas Cage is speaking with his angel buddy. I loved it when Nicholas Cage asks if he is being punished, and his friend responds, "You know better than that."
Best wishes, James Toy.


ARE THERE ANGELS?
June 7, 1999. I love the movie "City of Angels". It is very unique in the way that you could take an idea for a film like this and ham it up with some teenage, here today, gone tomorrow actors and make it all about sex and death. But the directors and the writers and actors had the vision that proved worthy. City of Angels is beautifully done with different ideas and unique inputs throughout the entire movie. I am only 15, yet I picked up on the subliminal messages and the true beauty and grace this film has to offer. Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan are, excuse the pun, a match made in heaven. These actors bring out the quality of the storyline where the writers worked so hard and it really shines through. I always believed in angels but wasn't really sure what I was believing in. I've heard stories and Bible verses that tell a little about angels or what people figure them to be. I, for one, am confused. Are angels dressed in white with wings and a halo? Or do they dress in black and wander about the Earth, searching for a human soul in need of guidance? I can't answer the ever-popular question of, do angels exist? I don't know and I probably never will until I meet them myself someday. Are angels in heaven or are they simply put on the Earth to help the human soul. We are taken care of in heaven. We need angels on the Earth with us, the troubled hearts that burn for answers to the questions I am asking now. I have often wondered, as a person afraid of death's viewpoint, will I be afraid if I ever see an angel? I probably would be. But feeling the presence of an angel is a whole different question. Thank you for your time. --K.T.

COMPELLING
April 19, 1999. Very Compelling Lovestory. Words just don't do it justice.

A MUST SEEE
March 17, 1999. One of the strongest movies I've ever seen. And that includes tension, characterization, color, conflict and etc. Nicolas Cage is simply a most wonderful and professional actor who conveyed the theme through his facial expressions and words. It is definitely a MUST SEE movie...--Tomas

I FELT SOMETHING INSIDE
Feb 23, 1999. Hi, my name is Jenn. I have been doing a study on angels, for a while now, to do a report in my psychology of death and dying class. I have always personally been interested in angels and what they are here for. My beliefs are very strong, spiritually, not necessarily religiously. When I watched City of Angels, I felt a feeling inside of me, that doesn't happen with other movies. It put a mental picture in my head and a question. Maybe, that's what angels really are doing. When a bad thing is about to happen, an angel embraces you and holds your heart in their hands. They wear black, because they are the shadows to those of us who have prayers, those of us in a bind, and need an extra helping hand. Thanks for doing a site on this subject, its definitely something to be thought about.
-JENN

ANGELS IN BLACK
I am troubled (?) by the use of angels dresses in black, when most of us have visualized them in white. I read in the comments above that they are black in order to look like shadows - does this mean that angels are like the shadows that surround us every day? Like shadows they are all around us? Also, from a comment made above, we know that Christ died for our sins - he died so that we could live. Does this analogy pick up with Seth when he dies (in angel form) so that Maggie could truly live and truly know what love is like? RC
MY RESPONSE: In the original film, Wings of Desire, the angels were in black, it was a black and white film, so the angels tended to look somewhat invisible as they blended with dark backgrounds. This is lost in the color remake, but same idea. Yes, the descent of Seth into human incarnation can be viewed as Christ like which has love as the motivation.

MOST WONDERFUL FILM WE HAD SEEN
Hi! I was in the cinema with a lot of friends. After we left the cinema everybody was as silent as they are if something terrible has happened. All feelings and impressions go round and round in our heads. We dreamt and we didn´t say anything for a long time. Then after several minutes, somebody tries to express his feelings. Everybody thought the same thing: "City of Angels" had been a wonderful - probably the most wonderful - film we had ever seen. We talked about it and everybody agreed when I decided to buy the CD. After having bought it, everybody wanted to listen to it, to remember the pictures and the feelings. All of my friends wished that there might be something like angels and we learned something with the help of the film: Just hope, there would be help - somewhere… In fact it was very interesting that these angels didn´t wear white dresses or sth. like that. I think it´s a good decision to dress them in black colours. I think it´s a well-made film, thanks for that…
Bye, Elke


I LOVE THE MOVIE. ANGELS IN BLACK
Hello David, Well I was with my friend yesterday we spent all day together and we saw the movie CITY OF ANGELS!! I noticed it also that the angels was dress in black which was very interesting! I love the movie It was very Good and it tells that angels do exists!!! Gayle told me that she wants to see the movie again she thought it was wonderful!! I love the part where Seth dies for Maggie to become human kinda like what Jesus did for us on earth and on the cross! Well I do love romantic movies!! Well I am sending you my thoughts!! May God Bless you David!
--Carrie

MY RESPONSE: There are so many things in that film and yet it is simple.  There was a scene in the film on how prayers are heard.   And you are right about Seth, there is a small parallel to Jesus here. There is an ancient saying that says, "He became what we are so we can become what He is."

FROM BRENDT: A REVIEW
Been checking out your website today, and really enjoying it. You've struck a good balance in the "in the world, not of it" arena, by holding on to truth without knee-jerk condemnation of everything that doesn't come from Christian origins.

      Attached below are some thoughts I offered on City of Angels out on Usenet a few weeks ago. Thought they might interest you. Stick with me here... I'm going to stagger into my point in a minute. (WARNING : Minor spoilers in here.....)
      When I interviewed the late gospel music singer Rich Mullins in 1996 he said, "A lot of people think you can't be a Christian and an existentialist. I don't think you can be a Christian any other way."
(See http://tlem.netcentral.net/features/9709/mullins.html for the interview.) Taken out of context, this may sound kinda weird, but I believe it.
      Having said that, if you look at City of Angels as a theological treatise, it's got some really messed-up points (although there's some really good stuff -- intended or not -- about what C S Lewis called "common grace"). For that matter, if you look at it as a love story (which is how it's marketed), it's not that great either. However, if you look at it as an examination of existentialism, I think it's a fairly intelligent movie (with a handful of unfortunate diversions to supposedly make it more marketable).
      What gets lost in the trailers, in the movie reviews, in the commentary, and sometimes even in the plot (if you're not paying real close attention) is the fact that Cage's character has longed to experience all the human elements for a long time, not just when he sees Meg Ryan. He wants to know what it's like to eat a pear; he's not just some horndog looking to have sex with a pretty doctor.
      When you look at it from the perspective of the multitude of blessings that we all enjoy as humans, it's a real lift. Something as simple as drinking a glass of water... the feel of the glass in your hand, of the water passing through your lips, over your tongue, down your throat, the taste (though hopefully not too much taste in water), the refreshment of the whole experience... it's pretty cool. Granted, if you lived like that all the time, you'd probably die of sensory overload, but it's a good reminder of how blessed we are.
--Brendt 
poohntig@mindspring.com

Here are some other pages on Angels:

MOVIES WITH ANGELS IN THEM:
ANGELS IN FILMS
CITY OF ANGELS
MICHAEL
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE
A LIFE LESS ORDINARY
PROPHECY
PROPHECY 2

INSIGHTS ABOUT ANGELS:
ANGELS AND HOLLYWOOD
ANGELS IN THE BIBLE
GABRIEL
MICHAEL
SATAN HAS FALLEN