'City of Angels' Explores Faith

'Ghost" did it. So did "Contact." Every so often, a Hollywood movie tackles deep issues of faith, love, and eternal life. Take "City of Angels" - a classic romance that does something a little different with its formula.

If this formula, involving an angel who gives up eternity for the woman he loves, is familiar, that's because it was inspired by "Wings of Desire," the 1987 film by Wim Wenders.

Some critics say the new picture by Brad Silberling pales in comparison with the German director's poetic work. With Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage, however, "City of Angels" has the star power to win the box-office popularity race. Already, it has claimed the No. 1 slot.

Ryan and Cage are the main attractions, but viewers get more than a look at two of Hollywood's hottest actors. The film's often profound exploration of spiritual matters will make audiences think.

Its story centers around Ryan's "Maggie," a highly driven surgeon, and Cage's "Seth," a black-clad angel who follows her every move and hears her every thought.

When their eyes first meet in the operating room while she's struggling to save a patient's life, Maggie becomes aware of a celestial presence. She begins to wrestle with questions she's never thought of. "I suddenly have the feeling none of this is in my hands," she confides to a nurse, "and if it isn't, what do I do with that?"

At one point, Maggie asks Seth to look into a microscope at her blood cells. "That's me!" she says. She is intrigued by his response: "If all you are is cells," he says, "when you die, that's the end."

Later, when he asks her to define love, she starts to explain it as a chemical reaction, then stops mid-sentence. She's learning that there's much more to love than the "chemistry" between them.

One of Maggie's patients also directs her down a more spiritual path. Played by Dennis Franz (Detective Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue"), Nathan Messinger tells her death isn't the end (he was an angel once), and that she can trust the unseen.

At times "City of Angels" gets bogged down in sentimentality. Surgery scenes are graphic. And the ending is disturbing. But Maggie's evolution is gratifying to watch.

At the movies, on stage, or in any other cultural venue, witnessing such a change in character might even nudge us on our own spiritual journeys.

* Please tell us what you think of 'City of Angels' or send general comments on the Arts & Leisure section to: wolcott@csmonitor.com

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