city of angels

This post is part of a larger feature on my friend Fletch's site, Blog Cabins, entitled "Cagefest: The Nic Cage Film Festival". For a selection of Mr. Cage's films, Fletch had a blogger present either a PRO or a CON argument. This is my PRO review for City of Angels. You should definitely head over to Cagefest to read some of the other reviews when you get a chance.

I've had a growing impatience lately with movies that depict love unrealistically. Like, most of them.

You know what I'm talking about: the couple sees each other, has a few furtive conversations, and suddenly they're "in love" and are willing to move heaven and earth for each other. That is SO NOT how it works. In real life, love is immensely complicated, hard to come by, and requires effort, time, and sacrifice.

So why do I love City of Angels so much, given that it's the textbook example of this "instant love" phenomenon? Easy. I don't accept love as the turning point of the story.

If you don't know the movie, here's a big fat SPOILER ALERT... and now I'll fill you in. The premise of City of Angels is that an angel (Nicolas Cage) falls so deeply in love with a surgeon (Meg Ryan) that he chooses to forsake his immortal life and become a human, just so that he can be with her.

It's a sweet idea, if that was what really happened in the movie. Oh, they definitely feel lust for one another. Longing, too. But I think the real draw for our angel is not love, but life.

Let me explain. There's a lot of imagery in City of Angels of the simple, sensual pleasures of being human: the way a pear tastes; sunlight filtering through trees; the bracing ecstasy of a really hot shower. I get that stuff completely, because as anybody who knows me well can tell you, Nayana is all about the sensual pleasures*. I find it really easy to lose myself in things like dazzling sunsets, light reflecting on water, kickass thunderstorms, cherry cheesecake... So if I were in Seth the angel's position, would I give up immortality and the ability to sit on overhead freeway signs in order to experience all these things? Hells yeah.

I guess my point is that the real romance of this movie is not the Nic Cage/Meg Ryan slobberfest, but the romance between a human being and life itself. Get it?

*OK, perv, that's not what I mean. Sensual. We could talk about the other thing too, but that's not the topic of the day.
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9 Response to "city of angels"

  1. Jess says:
    September 12, 2008 at 11:15 AM

    N - you've totally made me want to see this again from a different perspective. I really disliked it the first time because of how it ends (trying not to give it away) and have never wanted to watch it again. But I think you're right that it's one of those movies sold improperly as a particular genre when it's really something a bit more unique. "Catch and Release" was like that for me. Totally not a romantic chick flick, but rather a deeper movie about how much do you know about your friends and the people you love, and how much do you need to know to love them anyway.

  2. Nayana Anthony says:
    September 12, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    Exactly. You hit it on the head.

  3. David Bishop says:
    September 12, 2008 at 6:08 PM

    The original German film on which this is based emphasizes that the Angel chooses a mortal life to experience humanity as a player rather than a spectator. The love story is really secondary.

    Seriously, check out Wings of Desire.

  4. The Mad Hatter says:
    September 14, 2008 at 1:35 PM

    While I agree with David that WINGS OF DESIRE got it all better, I think you've done a great job of conveying what I like so much about this movie.

    It wasn't the love story so much as the "angel wanting to be human" story, and taking deep joy in all of those sensual pleasures we take for granted.

    Great piece - think I might have to go throw that dvd on now. (Yes, I own it. Shut up.)

  5. Nayana Anthony says:
    September 14, 2008 at 8:04 PM

    I will not shut up, Hatter! I own it too. :-)

  6. Reel Whore says:
    September 18, 2008 at 12:06 PM

    I'm with Jess. I'd almost see this again to view it from the new perspective. The only strong emotion I felt during this film was in post-coital scene with a basking Meg (you know the one) - I laughed out loud. Ah, the little joys of my youth.

    I think I will compromise and check out Wings of Desire.

  7. elgringo says:
    September 19, 2008 at 1:37 AM

    I really want to see that picture with them sitting on the sign with McCain and Obama replacing them.

  8. This Brazen Teacher says:
    September 23, 2008 at 2:51 PM

    NICE review. Made me see the movie in a whole new light.

  9. Clara Mathews says:
    January 18, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    Great review. I was never a fan of this movie because I really love the original, Wings of Desire. But you make an excellent case for City of Angels. Perhaps I will rent it and give it another chance.

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