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Favorite Movie Moment: City of Angels

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Another of my favorite moments in films occurs in City of Angels (1998), a love story about an angel (Seth) who falls in love with a heart surgeon (Maggie) and trades his immortality to be with her. The film’s angelology definitely has its flaws (as does its theology). Dallas Willard interestingly uses it as an example of our culture’s fixation with and idolatry of feelings: “Feelings are a primary blessing and a primary problem for human life,” writes Willard in Renovation of the Heart. “Hence they are also central for spiritual formation . . . . In the restoration of the individual to God, feelings too must be renovated: old ones removed in many cases, or at least thoroughly modified, and new ones installed or at least heightened in to a new prominence.” That becomes somewhat more difficult in our culture, however, because feelings “live on the front row of our lives like unruly children clamoring for attention.” And that “attraction of feeling to humans minds is so great that we project it onto angels,” imagining that they are so desirous of our capability to feel that they’d give up their angel status.

That aside, there is a moment in the film that rings remarkably true. It occurs after Maggie has lost a patient and a subsequent conversation she has with another doctor, during which she confesses: “I suddenly have this feeling that none of this is in my hands. Nothing. And if it isn't, what do I do with that?” After that conversation she walking through the hospital when she encounters Seth (who, unknown to Maggie) has been watching and comforting her unseen. Maggie has glimpsed him once before, earlier in the operating room where she lost her patient. Their conversation resonates with me as I, like Maggie, have struggled with my place and purpose and the revelation of how very little control I do have over life and things around me. Yet in the doubt and even despair, comes a simple truth that Seth reveals at the end of this clip—one that pulls us out of our circumstances and into a much larger perspective and truth. (You can view this segment of the film in the first half of the clip above; click on the image and you will be taken to Flixster, which hosts the clip.)

MAGGIE: Excuse me.

Seth turns around and looks at Maggie, who is a somewhat unsettled when she sees his face.

MAGGIE: Are you a visitor?

SETH: Yes.

MAGGIE: Visiting hours have been over since eight.

SETH: Why do they have that?


SETH: Hours. Doesn't it help the patient to be visited?

Maggie doesn’t answer, and moves forward a few steps, asking:

Who are you visiting? Mr. Messinger?

SETH: Right now?

Maggie nods.


Seth voice is soft:

SETH: You.

Maggie looks troubled.

MAGGIE: I don't need a visitor.

SETH: You're not ill?

Maggie looks very uncomfortable.

MAGGIE: No. (She pauses.) I'm one of the doctors here.

Seth pauses and then asks in an even softer voice:

SETH: Are you in despair?

Tears come to Maggie’s eyes as she tries to get a grasp on the direction their conversation has taken. She almost whispers:

MAGGIE: I lost a patient.

SETH: You did everything you could.

MAGGIE: I was holding his heart in my hand when he died.

SETH: Then he wasn't alone.

MAGGIE: Yes, he was.

SETH: People die.

MAGGIE: Not on my table.

SETH: People die when their bodies give out.

Frustration floods Maggie’s voice:

MAGGIE: It's my job to keep their bodies from giving out. Or what am I doing here?

SETH: It wasn't your fault, Maggie.

MAGGIE: I wanted him to live.

Seth smiles softly:

SETH: He is living. Just not the way you think.

Maggie pauses and looks away. She shakes her head slightly as she disagrees:

MAGGIE: I don't believe in that.

SETH: Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.
(Clip: copyrighted by Warner Bros)


Mirtika said…
The original (Wings of Desire, the German flick) is so wonderful visually, and the angel so wrecked looking and so philosophical, that this one suffers by comparison. WofD is art. CofA is Hollywood, with a rather boring Meg Ryan. I thought Cage was good, though. And I hated, utterly hated, the ending. It was manipulative to me.

Carmen Andres said…
mir, i haven't seen the german flick, but have heard ravs similar to yours. i understand WoD also ends differently, too?